Trip-hop veteran Alison Goldfrapp revels in influences all her own
Music genres are never easy to assign, and lately they’ve become useless. Take British techno siren Alison Goldfrapp. First heard on Tricky’s 1995 debut “Maxinquaye,” the then-university-student earned her trip-hop wings almost by accident. Before long, the young singer was popping up on albums by electronic artists like Orbital and Add N to X. But it wasn’t until the end of the ’90s, when she teamed up with producer Will Gregory to form her eponymous group, that we even learned what Goldfrapp’s own sensibilities sounded like. Now on their third album, the duo Goldfrapp find themselves as distinct from Alison’s early days as they are from the rest of today’s electronic scene.
Drawing its inspiration largely from the groundbreaking techno sound of the ’70s and ’80s, the new disc, “Supernature,” seems worlds away from contemporary dance music. Gregory’s beats are stunningly simple, resembling the pulsing bass popularized by Giorgio Moroder. Alison’s slithery vocals contrast perfectly with the occasionally harsh synths, making for a heady and oddly comforting mix.
Influences on “Supernature” are hard to miss. Album opener “Ooh La La” features beats that would have sounded perfect on a Soft Cell album. “Slide In” has a dirty groove that sounds uncannily like Prince proteges Apollonia 6. Surefire hit “Ride on a White Horse” features a robotic beat that would make Kraftwerk blush with recognition. Far from being a rip-off, however, “Supernature” reinvents these now vintage sounds, setting them comfortably in a modern club vibe.
Long the subject of questions about her sexuality, Goldfrapp herself recently poked fun at the persistent speculation. In a spot filed for the Logo network, the singer makes reference to having had an affair with Bjork, a rumor that sounds more tied to the pair’s respective sounds than sexual orientation.
There’s no denying that the libidinous Goldfrapp has inspired queer adoration from all parts of the globe. Already making a big impression overseas, “Supernature” is scheduled to hit American markets by early March. Dance and techno fans alike would be well-advised to check this album out. Not since their 2000 debut has Goldfrapp had such a clear vision of their sound and such a perfect path to a wonderfully cohesive record.
Despite his movie-star looks, Duncan Sheik has earned his stripes as a respected songwriter. Thanks to his 1996 self-titled debut, Sheik’s name is synonymous with thoughtful lyrics and delicate arrangements. Though largely a romantic tunesmith, Sheik takes an uncharacteristic turn toward politics on latest disc, “White Limousine.”
A loose treatise on modern America, the album is musically what we’ve come to expect from Sheik, but somewhat disappointing otherwise. Political music is never easy to pull off, least of all because of the discomfort the subject generally produces. Nonetheless, those who craft “message music” owe their listeners some higher insight. And that’s where Sheik stumbles.
Take the album’s title track, in which the comfort of a luxury car becomes a metaphor for the life of the average American. In a telling snippet, Sheik sings “Who’s the smart guy at the wheel, running out of gas? He likes to wear a flight suit, and fly around for laughs.”
As a reference to the current president, that might ring true. But does it further any argument? Not on this album. The fact is that pointing out Americans’ proclivities for waste, indulgence and consumerism is hardly a great feat. Rage, shame or disgust might be appropriate reactions to the observations Sheik makes here. But simply noticing things, as Sheik does on “White Limousine,” rings hollow and half-baked.
Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm St. Jan. 25, doors at 8 p.m. $15 advance, $17 day of show. 888-512-7469.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 20, 2006.