[19 July 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Although it’s funny how it sometimes takes a while for a really cool CD to catch on with the masses, when such success happens to an artist who is completely deserving of the attention, it’s certainly better late then never. These days, it looks as if audiences in both the UK and the US are starting to perk their ears up and pay some attention to Goldfrapp’s terrific 2003 album Black Cherry, which was one of the finest albums to come out a year ago. Today, as television’s music video channels all but ignore good, high-quality music, in favor of pre-packaged corporate pop, advertising executives are the ones with keener ears, using music from the hippest of contemporary artists in their ad campaigns. Goldfrapp themselves have recently scored a real coup, as “Tiptoe” was snagged for a Diet Coke ad, and as you probably have seen, both “Strict Machine” and “Train” have been used in some very good Game Boy Advance commercials. People have indeed taken notice, especially with “Strict Machine” as many have wondered, “What’s that amazing song?” In early June, the re-released single hit #1 on the US club charts, which is no small feat. Goldfrapp, led by singer (and namesake) Alison Goldfrapp, are also enjoying renewed interest in Britain, recently playing the Glastonbury festival, and are slated to appear at other UK festivals, not to mention opening on the new Duran Duran tour. Thirteen months after the release of Black Cherry, things are finally looking up for the band.
Mute Records has never been afraid to beat a catchy single to within an inch of its life, Goldfrapp being no exception, as dozens of remixes of Goldfrapp songs have been released over the past four or five years. The new Strict Machine CD maxi-single, consequently, bears a strong similarity to 2001’s Utopia EP, as it’s absolutely loaded with more than an hour’s worth of B-sides, live performances, and slick, dance-fueled interpretations of the single. At the onset, you’ve got the stripped-down single mix of “Strict Machine”, a beautiful live performance of “Hairy Trees” recorded in London last year, and the typically enigmatic, half sexy/half creepy “White Soft Rope”, which claims to feature something called the “Midwich Children Choir”, but the voices sound so strange, you’re left wondering if the weird, off-key singing is actually doctored adult voices.
After that, though, the real fun begins, as the focus shifts primarily to the remixes, so if you don’t like “Strict Machine”, you’d better stay away, because you’re going to get Strict-Machined for a good 45 minutes. Goldfrapp drummer Rowan Oliver provides his own remix, creating a more minimal, slinky sound, while New York House mainstay Peter Rauhofer delivers two fantastic, pulsating mixes: his dark, almost sinister “NYC Mix” and slightly mellower “UK Mix” completely stripping the song of its electro elements, in favor of a more pulsating, tribal sound. Italian techno maestro Benny Benassi seems to be showing his limitations lately, repeating his monstrous 2003 hit “Satisfaction” in his recent remixes, using the same undulating, rumbling, trancelike synth lines and beats, but on his “Sfaction Extended Mix”, the formula meshes surprisingly well with the original material. Ewan Pearson’s terrific, ultra-slick, Giorgio Moroder-inspired “Strippedmachine Mix” isolates several distinct vocal tracks, and mashes them with retro synths as well as a strong dub influence, making the whole exercise sound completely different from the original. Most noteworthy, though, is a spectacular, epic dance mix by house great Victor Calderone (along with Astrid Suryanto), 12 whole minutes of continual euphoric climaxes that deserves to be a club hit this summer; this is without a doubt the best, most gloriously energetic remix of a Goldfrapp song that’s ever been done.
The only disappointment about the Strict Machine CD is the fact that the superb “We Are Glitter Mix”, a brilliantly heavy dose of ‘70s glam rock that Goldfrapp has recently incorporated into their live sets, has not been included. Aside from that, though, there’s very little to complain about, as both Goldfrapp fans and dance enthusiasts will love this one. Just in time for summer, too.