Unlike many, I actually enjoyed Alison and Will's dabbling with psychedelic folk on The Seventh Tree. It was an album that really let them get to grips with a pastoral Englishness that's often sniffed at with disdain in music circles. And, importantly, they really upped their game as a live band with the material on the album.
Head First will have the music reviewers churning out endless cliches about the 1980s - leg warmers, jump suits, Top Gun, big perms, frosted lipstick - to provide a shorthand as to what to expect from the album. Obvious and not entirely wrong. In fact, I'm going to use some cliches too. I Wanna Life, the penultimate track, is a gene splicing of Fleetwood Mac and Laura Branigan but it's also fabulously assertive pop that does encourage you to do embarrassing Footloose type dance routines in the kitchen whilst making the tea. There are at least half a dozen songs here that will have you reaching for the hair brush or the television remote to revive your teenage miming to songs in the mirror.
This is, as we've come to expect from Alison and Will, a beautifully crafted album, full of whooshing synthesised melodies and Moroder-esque beats, those typically fat drum sounds that would happily bless any 1980s power pop ballad, stabbing Van Halen synth riffs where indeed the anthemic Jump is clearly the template on current single Rocket.
The album gets off to a cracking start with that single, with the defiant chorus 'Oh-o-oh, I've got a rocket, Oh-o-oh - You're going on it. Oh-o-oh, you're never coming back' and unveils their return to glossy, melodic pop. A finely crafted ending too withat camp countdown and 'we have lift off' breathily intoned by Alison. Believer gloriously channels more Fleetwood Mac, has a wonderful chorus and 'pa-pa-oo-ah'ing backing vocals, snapping percussion and bubbling synths. Alison is certainly on excellent form too, with her vocals more at the front of the mix and embracing a more positive lyrical spin this time. I suspect a case of l'amour.
'Jump up and put on ma jeans, it's good that they feel a little tight' she confesses as Alive launches into further affirmation with a synth glissando of ELO type proportions punctuating a jogging Billy Joel type pomp rock number where squelching synthesisers and big sploshing drums dominate. It, like many of these first few tracks, also has a whiff of Physical era Newton John too. Is this a bad thing? I think the jury will be out on that one and it really depends if you're expecting more of Supernature. If you are, then you'll be disappointed.
Dreaming shimmers and bubbles as expertly as anything else on the album, is slightly more maudlin in tone, offering one of Alison's superb vocals weaving through washes of synthesiser off-set by a lilting chime melody. Some lovely snapping percussion reverberates in the back of the trilling and popping electronic soundscape. It finishes with an achingly beautiful string section.
Title track Head First confirms their obsession with the era, it's ABBA, Branigan and specifically Moroder produced Irene Cara or Donna Summer all rolled into one delicious confection and offers a clear homage to 1980s Euro disco. Hunt returns us safely to the familiar confines of electro-pop to be found on the albums pre The Seventh Tree. There are some lovely panting backing vocals that almost seem like a nod to the art-pop of Laurie Anderson too and this thread is picked up in the extraordinary closing track later. Lots of lovely swirling Vangelis style electronics on here that evoke the Blade Runner soundtrack. The lyrics are darker, moving away from Alison's desire to shout from the rooftops about her love life now getting back on course. "Every night, every day, making plans for your escape, all you love you destroy, everyone is your toy" she murmurs seductively, threatening to put the kibosh on everything. Quite lovely.
Shiny And Warm is a cheeky reminder of the more sensual 'bump and grind' qualities to their music and echoes the similar 'nudge, nudge, wink wink' attitude of Satin Chic from Supernature. Her vocal sounds like she's pissed as a newt, slurring and husky, all sticky and sweaty. Gregory fills in with all manner of farting, squeaking and squelching noises across the brisk and choppy electronics. For me, I Wanna Life returns the album to its core inspirations, Flashdance, Cara, Branigan, the Rush Hour of Jane Wiedlin and unequivocally stakes its claim as the last burst of 1980s pastiche before Alison and Will gleefully throw the baby and the bath water out and scurry back to their more experimental tendencies with a stunning instrumental, Voicething that evokes a jamming session between Laurie Anderson - all looping, staccato vocal samples - and Steve Reich - insistent, repetitious rhythms. It's held together with washes of synth and strings and will have people turning off their iPods in droves. I think it's gorgeous and astonishing.
It's a short album that's without bombast despite the heady influences, to the point and quite pared down as a production (a lesson learned from The Seventh Tree I suspect), even though as usual Will Gregory works absolute wonders as a producer. However, I have a sneaking feeling that they are going to have to work harder to keep their usual position of being ahead of the curve. One that they've now inspired in the clutch of Gagas, Florences, Boots et al clogging up the airwaves. Despite this, it's a very welcome dash of sunny, sparkly eyeshadow on the rather chilly face of Spring. Now, where's my jumpsuit...
Head First - Goldfrapp (Label: Mute - Release Date: March 22nd 2010 - Catalogue No. STUMM280)