Review Summary: They've gone acoustic, and made their best album yet.
It seems bizarre considering that Seventh Tree
is only their fourth album, but Goldfrapp's career has already circled upon itself twice. Where the lush, Portishead-without-beats Felt Mountain
saw the band on the cusp of stardom at a time when British music didn't really know what the hell it was doing, the defiant electroclash of Black Cherry
seemed like little less than a blatant attempt to sabotage their careers, annoy their fans, and remain a decidedly cult act. From there, they've simply repeated the cycle - the glam pop of Supernature
gave them more hits, and now anybody turned onto the band by their gleefully vapid aping of T-Rex is going to have Seventh Tree
to contend with.
For someone who started her career on Tricky
, we probably shouldn't expect anything less from Alison Goldfrapp, a woman who may never get enough credit for the way she refuses to be pinned down to any one ideal. Will Gregory deserves more credit, too, simply for keeping up with her and acquitting himself to all the band's previous albums with such alacrity. They're an unwieldy pair, yes, but more than that they're confusing and intriguing, not least for the fact that I've just used the word 'unwieldy' to describe an album as easy going, pretty, and inviting as Seventh Tree
. This album will undoubtedly be a magnet for journalistic buzzwords like 'pastoral', 'personal', 'intimate', and 'lush'. It's got acoustic guitar! There's no electro any more! You can play along with these songs at home! And so on.
It'd probably be a disservice to both the genre and this album to describe Seventh Tree
as a folk record, yet that's roughly the territory in which we're operating. While there certainly are electronic flourishes still - see the carefully produced highlight "A&E", the static that underpins the brilliant "Eat Yourself", and "Little Bird" - they feel like a secondary concern, because the atmosphere is designed to feel so close, so down-home. Even on the tracks where the acoustic guitars aren't at the forefront, they're still a crucial part of the lasting impression these songs leave. So are the occasional flutes, and the chamber strings. From a woman who only two years ago was promoting her album by simulating masturbation with a theremin, it's a complete revelation. Each song here is beautiful, tender, and home to hidden depths you'd have never imagined could exist in a Goldfrapp song. Air
's Moon Safari
and Zero 7
's When It Falls
are both frequently called to mind, yet this is better than both. Unlike Air, it transcends any chillout genre, and unlike Zero 7, the switch to acoustics is entirely convincing.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is an early contender for album of the year, but it's certainly a contender for the most welcome surprise. From the first minute till the last, this is enthralling, invigorating stuff, and because of that it's comfortably the duo's best album yet. Who knew that they'd find their true calling here?