Goldfrapp must enjoy confusing their fair-weather listeners. Fans should probably know better than to expect anything at this point, but I can only wonder what those accustomed to the glam-disco of Supernature and Black Cherry will think when listening to their latest release, Seventh Tree. After two previous records built largely around retro-synth grittiness and dancefloor seduction, it can become easy to forget that even those followed a very different debut from the same group.
Seventh Tree isn't really a return to Goldfrapp's original sound. Where their first album, Felt Mountain showcased more of a film-noir chanteuse, this latest offering is more a floating lullaby to spring. Echoes of Nick Drake and Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd drift by, while Allison Goldfrapp and accomplice Will Gregory must imagine what it would be like to have George Martin produce their record. Whatever the inspiration, and wherever their influences come from, the result is a masterful album that is both grand departure and hidden gem.
Seventh Tree finds its roots deep within classic singer-songwriter territory, as well as the seasoned pop of yesteryear. Comparisons to Joni Mitchell wouldn't be out of order with both the opening "Clowns" and it's follow-up "Little Bird." "Happiness" follows with all the jaunty summer bounce of a lost Beach Boys track. This is not to say that the songs are burdened with a need to deliver manufactured pastiche. They are still very much the product of the modern era, but they reflect an artistic maturity that perhaps finally embraces its roots instead of fighting against them.
Thematically the record takes the road most travelled and talks about (what else?) love. Lost, found, innocent, jaded… it's all there. And it's all insanely catchy. It's dreamy, but it's also exquisite pop. The lead single, "A&E", is an almost effortlessly great song, which could doom it from mass airplay (but hey, prove me wrong for once, Clear Channel). Then there's the Beatles-meets-disco romp through "Caravan Girl." Not only are they unafraid to mine from the best with this record, but they fully reinvent the sounds to suit their purposes, and not merely cherry-pick their favorite styles from years gone by.
Production on the album also walks a fine line between past and present. Although the record as a whole lies more on the slower and more stripped down side of what Goldfrapp have shown us, it would be a mistake to label it as their acoustic record. The production is sparse when it needs to be, bombastic when it fits, and yet always tempered by a judicious amount of self-restraint. On the whole, the songs on Seventh Tree are, for lack of words more desirable of "alternative" music, light and pretty. The programming and samples, as well as the full band and occasional strings, exist to serve the songs and not the other way around. If you're looking for overblown production or displays of technical wizardry, look away. The best compliment I can give the album is that you shouldn't even notice the production, as it continually redirects attention back to the first-rate songs.
Seventh Tree is an exquisite collection of almost perfect songs. It's spring and summer wrapped around delicate and potent memories. And while I wouldn't put too much stock in expecting them to stay here, it's certainly nice to enjoy the ride while it lasts. Then again, the closing lines of the final track "Monster Love" assure us that: "Everything comes around / Bringing us back again / Here is where we start / And where we end."