If the sensual world of debut album Felt Mountain was infused with the often disturbing scent of dark fantasy and imaginary landscapes, their new album Black Cherry brings in the sounds and energy of the city, the whirl of fairgrounds and the rush of desire.
Black Cherry will take Goldfrapp to a new and wider audience, while still building on their trademark experimental edges. From the heartbroken beauty of the title track and the erotic glow of Deep Honey to the sonic whirlpools of Tiptoe, the album reinforces Goldfrapp's siren like ability to suck you into other realms.
On first hearing, the driving basslines of Train or Strict Machine, or the playfully, joyously sexual Twist seem a world away from some of Felt Mountain? atmospheres but anyone who witnessed the dervish energy and potent intensity of last year? live shows would recognise the feeling behind them.
Alison: "the live shows were often very immaculate but also really intense and so it was a big release to be able to hit things, to let go and explode". Human and Utopia took on new dimensions as they became a whirlwind of noise. And when the band encored with a Teutonic disco version of 70s hit 'Physical' the audiences were left shrieking with delight. The decadent facade of Weimar backdrops and the desperate hedonism of Studio 54 were never closer than in Goldfrapp's world.
"I love disco, Donna Summer, Macarthur Park, all that stuff. On the last album people would go 'what are your influences' and I'd go Ennio Morricone and disco, the drama and the strings are there, even if its not obvious. Black Cherry has that same campness but campness explored in a different way".
Disco and its ability to sprinkle string-soaked glamour onto concrete and synthesise passion from tragedy makes a suitable parallel for the wonderful escapism of Felt Mountain and its multi-coloured successor sounds like it was born on that fantasy dancefloor in an alien landscape, never mind in the fertile minds of a creative London boy and a darkly imaginative Hampshire girl.
The live shows were complemented by Alison dj-ing around europe from Paris to Ibiza, Lisbon's legendary Lux club and the electronica Sonar Festival in Barcelona (scene of Goldfrapp's first ever live show), playing an eclectic mix from 70's disco and Joan Jett to Misteeq and Motorhead (to a stunned Glastonbury Sunday!).
Although they didn't plan it as such, their recording environment again proved crucial. Where for Felt Mountain they holed up in the countryside, this time, Goldfrapp opted to write and record in a darkened studio in Bath, all neon lights and darkened walls. "The closest we got to nature was a calendar on the wall, pictures of trees," explains Alison. "There was a rat in the downstairs and a leak in the roof. I drew on the walls, it was my mood board but I was also just trying to brighten the place up".
After a long year of touring they learned to not just relax, but have a whole lot of fun, turning up their old synthesisers loud, jamming away for hours on end and picking the best bits to sculpt into songs. After writing the darkly euphoric Twist and Train, Alison remembers "almost running home, I was so elated." Equally, where Felt Mountain was thought-out, Alison describes Black Cherry as "spontaneous and perfectionist! The first time, on Felt Mountain, although we had beats, they were subsumed. We put a different emphasise on it. We wanted this to be less ambiguous"
Apart from the twisted disco of Strict Machine and Train, standout tracks inhabit other extremes. There's the Christine Keeler rose petal cocoon of Hairy Trees, and the inordinately sensual, post-coital purr of Deep Honey, a stunning piece of music which showcases Goldfrapp's sheer musical reach.
Meanwhile Twist, rooted in an adolescent posh girl's fantasy of running off with a diesel-fingered fairground boy, is sex as candy-floss stickiness and generator buzz, all wrapped up in the wild scream of the thrill of pop.
Most contrarily, the title track is probably the most emotional and beautiful track Goldfrapp have ever done. "Personal stuff," sighs Alison, and won't expand.
Alison Goldfrapp grew up in the schizophrenic mix of surburbia and countryside. She was always going to be an outsider, and so it has proved. A seed for Goldfrapp's music was sown when her father played her Carmina Burana at an early age, analysing it across the breakfast table, but "I preferred Top of the Pops at the time".
From early convent school to sink estate comprehensive, suburban semi-normality and glue-sniffing to squatting in London, informing the sleaze and escapism along the way that often underpins her songs. A spell in performance art led to her collaboration with Orbital after they caught one of her first public performances, singing while milking a cow. Other work with Tricky followed.
In a parallel universe, Will Gregory - son of a Covent Garden chorus girl who bombarded his childhood with classical and The Beatles - headed off to America in a desperate bid to play saxophone properly. He headed for Los Angeles but a hitchhiking lift dropped him off at San Francisco, where he learned to play in bars. Various bands followed but bored on the tour bus, he started composing film soundtracks - notably the score for nineties hooligan film ID. Then, one day, a friend gave him a tape containing Alison? nearly fully written version of Human, one of the standouts on Felt Mountain. As Will puts it, with characteristic understatement, "There was something about her voice".
Signing to Mute in 1999, working on Felt Mountain brought together their favourite musics from Moroder to Morricone, a loathing of compromise, ability to think visually rather than in terms of B flats and, undoubtedly, the unique recording environment of the remote Wiltshire bungalow with mice scuttling over the roof. Thus, the resulting mood of the album: a cinematic place awash with the ghosts of Alison's childhood: curtains twitching in the suburbs, hints of disturbance, magic mingling with the macabre, all underpinned with an electric unease.
Critically acclaimed around the world and Felt Mountain sold almost half a million copies and made a major impact in both Europe and America, Rolling Stone described the album as simply "awesome". There followed the long year of touring during which the atmospheres sometimes only hinted at in Felt mnt coalesced into bolder shapes, still retaining their powerful elusiveness but with an extra ingredient of the live performance and the audience reaction.
And the magic of Goldfrapp's appeal is still in world of dark, strangely erotic disturbance and fantasy they create, the mystery, the sense of something below the surface, just tantalisingly out of reach.
The Alison Goldfrapp of Black Cherry is a different persona from the one unveiled on Felt Mountain. She's "happier" on this album... but then again Black Cherry has an undercurrent of disturbance that probably goes deeper than what Will describes as the "heavy atmosphere" in Bath, where the "bad air stays down in the valley." Black Cherry reflects both a playfulness and very submerged unease as they plunge again into the thrill and chaos of it all.
Where Felt Mnt seemed created from a lost storybook of childhood fantasy and fairy tale, Black Cherry hits like a coming of age explosion of the colour and noise of a lust for life.