One thing that refreshingly distinguishes electropop duo Goldfrapp from most musical acts is that they never make the same album back-to-back. Since their lush and elegant 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, each subsequent Goldfrapp record appears to be a reaction to the previous one. For instance, Black Cherry (2003) contained sounds reminiscent of David Bowie-era Low and Kraftwerk; the highly-successful Supernature (2005) was delicious glam pop; Seventh Tree (2008) revealed a folkier side of the group; and Head First (2010) was a throwback to ’80s synthpop and Italo-disco. It’s almost as if singer Alison Goldfrapp and musician Will Gregory are telling fans and music critics, taking a page from Bowie: “We’re going to keep you guessing on what our next move is.” The only things that are a given are Alison Goldfrapp’s sultry vocals and the duo’s textured musical soundscape.
Following the more intimate folktronica sound of 2013’s Tales of Us, it’s not surprising that Goldfrapp’s seventh and latest full-length studio album, Silver Eye, is a return to the band’s uptempo electronic dance pop sound of Supernature and Black Cherry. For this particular new record, the duo worked with a couple of new collaborators, including John Congleton, whose production credits include St. Vincent and Wild Beasts; the British duo even went to Dallas to work with Congleton.
Thus, fans who have been waiting for Goldfrapp to somehow get back to their dance club roots will be instantly rewarded with Silver Eye’s outstanding opening track and initial single, “Anymore”. With its buzzing and crackling synth sounds against a steady, pulsating beat, “Anymore” is a seductive track about yearning both in the emotional and carnal sense (“You’re what I want/ You’re what I need/ Give me your love/ Make me a freak,” Alison Goldfrapp sings with sensuality); the spellbinding “Systemagic” also takes a similar page from “Anymore” with its drill-sounding synths and march-like disco beats that would have easily fit right at home on Black Cherry. Another track, the mechanical “Everything Is Never Enough”, is also uptempo, infectious electropop whose lyrics could be interpreted as a critique on our current society (“Insatiable perfect neon stranger/ All the money you need/ Watching nature/ On my screen saver in a wasteland”).
Even if the electronics are more pronounced on this particular record than Tales of Us, Silver Eye leaves room for the subdued atmospheric numbers that reference Felt Mountain, Seventh Tree, and Tales of Us. The most gorgeous-sounding of the album’s slower tracks is the gauzy and airy “Faux Suede Drifter”; had you not known that song and the hauntingly elegant “Zodiac Black” were written by Goldfrapp, you might have thought they were unreleased recordings by Kate Bush from the Hounds of Love and The Sensual World sessions. Silver Eye comes to a rather dramatic close with “Ocean”, which may be the heaviest and most emotional song that Goldfrapp has recorded in recent memory — it comes across sounding like a hybrid of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
Beneath the glamorous and perfectionist sheen of the music, Goldfrapp’s lyrics are generally a combination of spirituality, introspection, and romantic yearning, a contrast to some of electronic music’s darkness and hedonism. And Silver Eye is no different as it draws from paganistic themes — like being one with yourself and your natural surroundings. Outside of the lusty “Anymore”, the songs mention mountains, trees, water, sky, and hills in the lyrics; the electronic textures complement the album’s quasi-metaphysical theme, like that of the dreamy and animalistic “Tigerman” and the poetic “Moon in Your Mouth”. The backstory behind “Become the One”, which was inspired by a documentary that Alison Goldfrapp saw about transgender children, makes that song’s lyrics all the more relevant for these times (“We’ve got life/ We’ve got love/ Become the one/ You know you are”).
The music on the record seamlessly ebbs and flows while not sounding repetitive, and Alison Goldfrapp remains one of pop’s most charismatic, if underrated, singers. In all, Silver Eye has a little bit of everything for fans of either the band’s uptempo electronic or reflective folk-ambient phases. If this pattern holds up, as their prior records have shown, then it’s likely Goldfrapp’s next album will be a reflective effort again. Or perhaps the duo will do a complete 180-degree stylistic turn (Torch songs? Industrial metal?). One thing is for certain: Having been a chameleonic yet consistent act for almost 20 years now, Goldfrapp don’t seem to care what type of music they end up making, just as long as the work getting there is satisfying.
Essential Tracks: “Anymore”, “Faux Suede Drifter”, and “Ocean”