Goldfrapp began life as an ethereal, trip-hop informed dream pop outfit, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp having launched their career with the haunting Felt Mountain. And yet, quite a few were still caught off guard with the release of the group’s fourth album, 2008’s Seventh Tree. A slight return to their origins with a more organic, airy feel, Seventh Tree was a dramatic contrast to the electronic glam-pop the duo had deliciously perfected on Black Cherry and Supernature, a sleazy, sassy triumph that stands as the group’s best moment. Still, those who prefer a sexier, more disco-friendly Goldfrapp will be pleased to hear that they’ve once again turned their attention to the dancefloor.
Bright, flashy and bold, Head First is a work of pure hedonism. Every facet of it is designed for maximum stimulus, from its pink and purple cover art (and Alison’s bright jumpsuit in the sleeve photo) to its title, which is a strong indicator of its direct and highly infectious nature. In contrast to the electro-sleaze of Black Cherry or the Bolan-inspired swagger of Supernature, however, there are bigger, more anthemic sounds at play here. Hearing a song like the mighty title track, it’s hard not to imagine a montage scene from an ’80s coming-of-age comedy to pair with it.
Fetching as they are in leather and furs, Goldfrapp take a slightly softer route on Head First, speaking more to the heart than the loins. While a song called “Rocket” could very easily be riddled with sexual metaphors, instead, Alison Goldfrapp goes the literal-ish route, sending an ex-lover away on her spacecraft, as she coos “oh-oh-oh, I’ve got a rocket/ oh-oh-oh, you’re going on it/ oh-oh-oh, you’re never coming back.” over a dazzling chorus of gigantic synthesizers. Meanwhile, “Believer” pairs ethereal melodies with a throbbing beat to add a little sex appeal beneath Goldfrapp’s declaration “I’m a believer…in you.”
While Goldfrapp’s flashier indulgences aren’t necessarily anything new, what sets Head First even farther apart from the duo’s prior efforts is an unapologetic and sometimes affectionately cheesy gloss that sparkles throughout. A prime example is “Alive,” which is as much Billy Joel as it is Giorgio Moroder. A pulsing bassline, some infectious piano hooks, and then soon enough this disco-pop gem soars into the stratosphere. The first 30 seconds of the title track tease a ballad, but shortly transition into soaring pop majesty. And “I Wanna Life” is the closest Goldfrapp will ever get to Olivia Newton-John.
As with any of Goldfrapp’s albums, however, there’s a dark side that lurks just underneath the surface, and Head First is no exception. Just around the corner from the glittery sheen of “Alive” is a song like “Dreaming,” which throbs with the icy cool of Glass Candy, by way of Depeche Mode. Likewise, the slow lurch of “Hunt” is sinister and sensual, balancing both extremes as Goldfrapp hisses “tonight…they hunt…for you.” In slight contrast to that slow and sultry dirge is the glamorous and erotically eerie “Shiny and Warm,” one of the rare tracks that sounds culled from the Supernature sessions.
With only 9 songs and a running time well under 40 minutes, Head First is a concise statement, but an impressive one. Showing once again that they’re strongest when making a big statement, Goldfrapp have done so without exhausting their resources or wearing out their welcome. The rare album that balances big-hearted pop songs with dark, sultry come-ons, Head First is pop music done right.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.