While the temptation for Goldfrapp to continue riding the wave of commercial success generated by the one-two punch of 2003’s Black Cherry and 2005’s million-selling Supernature must have been great, in the end they opted for a sonic left turn with Seventh Tree. While this latest effort from the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory is not at all a retreat to the sonic territory carved by their otherworldly, cabaret-styled debut, Felt Mountain, neither is it a continuation of the electro-glam of Black Cherry or Supernature.
That much is made clear on the opening track, “Clowns,” a tender and understated folk-styled number that opens with nothing but Alison’s vocals and some delicate acoustic guitar work. It sets the stage for a record that is more appropriate for a sunny Sunday morning in bed than a Saturday night dancing in a club.
There’s already been much gnashing of teeth over this new style, and how Golfrapp might be alienating many of the fans they’ve picked up over the last few years because of the slower pace and relatively more straightforward pop and folk songwriting featured on Seventh Tree. It’s perhaps a reasonable concern, although it’s far too early to tell.
But if this comes to pass, it won’t be because the album lacks quality songs. In addition to the beautiful opener, there are some real gems here. “Little Bird” sounds like a lost track from the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour sessions (were it recorded in the 21st century), replete with a slinky bassline that calls to work some of Paul McCartney’s best work with the Fab Four.
The other winning combo of tracks is lead single “A&E”, a pop gem with a beautiful chorus that is all too short, and “Cologne Cerrone Houdini”, a slow-burning, sexy funk-lite number with top-shelf production. Finally there is “Caravan Girl”, a rare upbeat track that wins due to sheer energy and insistence.
Seventh Tree is not Goldfrapp’s most upbeat or instantly catchy record by any means, nor is it their most consistent. But its high points outnumber the low, and it is a worthy entry into the catalog of a band that has already proven to be as satisfying as it is unpredictable.