Goldfrapp: Seventh Tree

Just when you thought you had Goldfrapp figured out, they throw you for a loop one more time.


Seventh Tree

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2008-02-26
UK Release Date: 2008-02-25

Alison Goldfrapp's metamorphosis from eccentric trip-hop songstress to overtly sexual glam pop diva was a masterstroke from the start, both artistically and commercially. Forgoing the sumptuous, pastoral evocations of electronica with partner-in-crime Will Gregory on the debut album Felt Mountain, the duo switched from mystery to jarring directness on 2003's Black Cherry and 2005's Supernature, Gregory's throttling beats evoking the then-in vogue German schaffel sound (which in turn was heavily derived from the UK glam rock of the early 1970s), Alison's lyrics brimming with lust.

After the critical acclaim Felt Mountain garnered, this time the record-buying public in Europe and the UK followed suit, singles like "Train", "Strict Machine", "Ooh La La", "Ride a White Horse", and "Number 1" charting well enough to establish Goldfrapp as one of the more reputable pop acts of the last few years. That said, after the stunning debut and its equally disarming follow-up, for all its merits Supernature felt like Will and Alison were backing themselves into a corner. Sure, the musical formula was a fabulous one, but for the first time that element of surprise that endeared Goldfrapp to many just wasn't there. Thankfully, nearly two and a half years later, they're pulling the rug out from under us once again.

The release of Seventh Tree is one of those situations where a record label is forced to wear that uneasy smile, immensely proud of supporting an artist with that much integrity, but weeping deep down inside, worrying about the certainty of lower sales figures. Equally odd for Mute Records to have to deal with is just how severely Goldfrapp has changed direction on its fourth disc. No contagious dance beats? No blunt come-ons? Acoustic guitar? Mellotron? Who do they think they are, Feist?

Mercifully, unlike the Apple-shilling Canadian, while Seventh Tree embraces the acoustic influences of Nick Drake and the airy melodies of late '60s Beatles, the record never slips into bland, Starbucks soundtrack territory. It might be a quieter and more introspective disc than we'd been expecting, but this is still a quintessential Goldfrapp album with Gregory's arrangements brilliantly underscoring the inimitable vocal versatility of his female foil.

Even on their last two albums, Goldfrapp has never shied away from the mellower tracks, but the way Seventh Treegets off to such a subdued start just might throw some longtime fans off. "Clowns" is a sublime opener, Alison's gentle singing mirroring the indecipherable yet hypnotic style of Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins, strings and synths adding a John Barry-like cinemtatic quality to the track. "Eat Yourself" continues in a similar direction, Alison cooing away, bass and percussion innocuously entering the fray. Meanwhile, the whimsical "Happiness" puts an electronic twist on the oft-imitated Sgt. Pepper sound, those trademark Goldfrapp synth hooks fitting right in. "Little Bird", though, is even better, unabashedly using psychedelic imagery and plenty of sonic gimmicks like reverse playback and mellotron, everything with the kind of sweeping coda the Flaming Lips wish they could still pull off.

Sequenced like a vinyl LP, there's a distinct divide between Seventh Tree's two halves and after the somewhat staid first "side". "Some People" is the album's turning point, a ballad in the same vein as "Black Cherry", piano and strings giving way to Alison's richly layered vocals. "Cologne cerrone Houdini" revisits the dignified, enigmatic tones of Felt Mountain, but again, with a more organic feel than ever before. The rollicking "Caravan Girl" is shockingly conventional, a straight-ahead four-on-the-floor rocker, but a relentlessly catchy and playful one at that, a welcome change of pace.

The album's real treasure, though, is "A & E", which ranks among the duo's very finest moments. Here Alison ditches all the nature-obsessed poetry and cryptic wordplay, going for pure, desperate emotion instead, her aching character sketch of a woman coming to in "a pastel ward" of an emergency room is devastating. Unlike any other previous Goldfrapp single, "A & E" strips the sound bare, the more simplified approach proof that it's indeed possible mature as songwriters without ever sounding boring.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.