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Music Review: Goldfrapp – Head First

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Dust off your roller skates and pull on your leg warmers, because Goldfrapp wants to whisk you back to 1983. The chameleon-like duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have their sights set firmly on early-80s synth pop for their most recent release, Head First.

The synths are vintage, the songs are catchy and short, and the hair is big. Although the group has explored electronic-based styles in the past, this go-round finds them taking things in a decidedly more bubbly direction.

“Rocket” takes off (sorry, I had to) first thing, and is a catchy, radio-friendly tune. Buoyed by a sing-along chorus and “Jump”-era keyboard sounds, it quickly shows that to be the album’s raison d’etre. “Believer” follows a similar path and delivers a one-two punch with the opener.

“Alive” is the first track that lets Goldfrapp’s typical songwriting style come through, sounding like the expected result of this chosen style with some of their past efforts. “Dreaming” follows suit, where a slightly longer track allows for some interesting song exploration.

The title track, “Head First,” sounds more than a touch like a lost Olivia Newton-John song; which shouldn’t come as a shock, given that the album artwork draws from that post-Xanadu world of girl-pop. “Hunt” is another track that fits in a little tighter with what Goldfrapp has explored in past records. It’s a dreamy, slightly dark song that gives Alison a bit more room for vocal expression.

“Shiny And Warm” actually wouldn’t have been too out of place on the duo’s Black Cherry album, where its more seductive disco vibe would have found more compatriots. “I Wanna Life” is the last of the standard pop songs in the set and is cut from the exact same cloth as “Rocket,” almost as if it’s the minor-key (in the verses) alternate take.

The final track, “Voicething,” is the oddball of the set, but also the one sounding most like the group. Sampling Alison’s voice to create a choir of female voice texture over manipulated electronics, the song holds just enough retro sound elements to let it fit with the overall theme, but also forges its own trail. The warm keyboard sounds melt some of the edges from the voice-as-effects layering of Alison, and create a beautifully serene end. It’s a small bit of experimentation on an otherwise homogenous album.

Head First is an enjoyable, but ultimately overly-safe record. It does such a good job of authenticity that it doesn’t really bring a lot of new ideas to the table. Although the songs are catchy as you please, it’s hard to shake the thought that they reached for too low a bar. Lyrics are more simplistic, and melodies feel too reigned in by the style.

Head First delivers a short list of solid, vintage 80s pop songs, but here’s hoping that next time Goldfrapp feel the nostalgia itch that they mix things up just a bit more.

About David R Perry