With her live debut for solo album The Love Invention, here is an artist saying ‘why the hell not, let’s do it’; and setting her controls for the stars
After more than two decades fronting the band that bears her name, Alison Goldfrapp has stepped sideways and on to the dancefloor with debut solo album The Love Invention, aided and abetted by producers Ghost Culture and Richard X. Having previously lacked the confidence to go it alone without Goldfrapp writing partner Will Gregory, the album nonetheless strikingly finds her strutting assuredly about like the missing link between Róisín Murphy and Kylie Minogue.
This reinvention finds Goldfrapp vocally at her whisperiest, every word a playful invitation to let the beats take you over, each bloop and bleep precisely placed for maximum movement encouragement. Both vocals and atmosphere are entirely removed from the operatics of 2000’s Felt Mountain or the lushly varied soundscapes of the duo’s subsequent work. An album blending fantasy italo-disco with glacial electropop that originated in the isolation of pandemical lockdown, The Love Invention seems intended to strike new ground for its creator. But does it quite reinvent her as a dancefloor diva?
In the depths of London’s Outernet, with its state of the art audio set-up, the album’s intentions can for the first time be realised. Billed as Goldfrapp’s first solo show, it should be noted that she has toured for a long time without Gregory, whose preference is for the anonymity of the studio, so perhaps we’re witnessing an evolution rather than a revolution. Disco-ready in a sparkly top, she shimmers up the stage stairs to join a drummer, a synth player and three dancers, and begins the set with the mid-paced, feet-finding Hotel (Suite 23), a scene-setter that beckons us into a world just beyond, the stage backdropped with an image of the frontage of a hotel. The pace picks up with the title track, Goldfrapp’s vocals in the chorus here at their processed breathiest, as the backdrop switches to the sort of luminous colours that would be familiar to Emperor Ming.
Next comes the evening’s first surprise. Believer is from 2010’s Head First, an album taking for its touchstones frothy ‘80s pop and The Pointer Sisters, a snug fit for the synthpop of the new album. It also sees Goldfrapp step away from the mic stand for the first time, as if freed from first-night new material nerves, even while a speedily-resolved glitch affects the drums. This revelation that Goldfrapp material would be woven around the solo work in the form of rarely played back catalogue bangers seems to set the audience at ease too.
Here, Digging Deeper Now makes perfect contextual sense, as does the live drummer to beef up the beat, while In Electric Blue aligns Goldfrapp adjacent to Robyn, queen of the sad bangers. Eulogy to love The Beat Divine sashays sassily in the direction of italo while reminding stylistically of Annie, and the sedated SloFlo drifts glossily over fluffy pink clouds to a half-heard, half-imagined dreamworld. Most unexpected of all is Impossible, her 2022 collaboration with Röyksopp, a slow-burning banger which brings a harder edge to the set and makes for a pleasing contrast. Through all this the black-clad dancers variously come and go, sometimes alone, sometimes together, seemingly with the brief to respond to the music and the moment just as they please.
On the subject of bangers, the new album has more than a few of its own, with single Never Stop being but one. “This is the ice cream song, let’s see your butts moving,” Goldfrapp commands as Gatto Gelato’s infectious beat and perfunctory lyrics curiously combine to make a highlight. These brand new works she dovetails with signature stomper Strict Machine from Black Cherry, Supernature’s rather repetitive though welcome Number 1, and an unexpectedly stentorian slice of 2017’s Silver Eye, Anymore. The main set ends with a return to Head First in the form of Rocket, apparently by fan request – “I feel slightly weird doing it,” she confesses, “but let’s just do it” – and by this point the synth player is out front bossing a keytar, the audience hollering happily along to the oh-oh-ohs.
Returning for her encore resplendent in a shimmery floor-length cape, Goldfrapp kicks off with the space disco and compulsive synth bass of So Hard So Hot, whose title adorns caps and t-shirts at the merch stand and whose refrain “Now I live my life in the sun” is about as dreamy as a lyric can be, pointing a path to this summer’s festivals. Ride A White Horse reminds of Supernature’s imperial phase glories anew, while Fever ramps the volume up to ecstatically and confidently close a set which has shown off all but one of the new album’s tracks. For sure the material that makes up The Love Invention is subtly different to that which went before, but as its road test tonight proved, it is assuredly a work from an artist saying ‘why the hell not, let’s just do it’; and setting her controls for the stars.
Alison Goldfrapp played: Hotel (Suite 23), Love Invention, Believer, Digging Deeper Now, In Electric Blue, Never Stop, Number 1, The Beat Divine, Impossible, Anymore, SloFlo, Gatto Gelato, Strict Machine, Rocket. Encore: So Hard So Hot, Ride A White Horse, Fever.