Since Goldfrapp’s 2003 album Black Cherry, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp became associated not only with sassy, blistering glam-disco, but with strange, anthropomorphic visuals. Black Cherry pitted Goldfrapp’s sexy cabaret image up against photoshopped wolves’ heads. And Black Cherry was a wolves’ record, bearing fangs and showing stealth ferocity, not to mention a stunning, shiny coat. Supernature replaced the lupine imagery with that of peacocks, Ms. Goldfrapp shaking her tail feathers on the cover. Likewise, Supernature matched its choice of creature, it being a glamorous and showy affair, stunning in none-too-subtle ways.
On album four, Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp’s visual motif has been taken over by owls. The inside folds out to reveal Alison being embraced by a giant owl suit (presumably worn by Gregory, but that’s just a guess), while beneath the CD tray, there’s a sketch of an owl with an anatomically correct body (um…for a human). How the owl relates to Goldfrapp’s music may seem confusing at first, but the primary key lies in the first line of the `owl’ entry on Wikipedia, in that they are `solitary’ and `nocturnal.’ Seventh Tree is dark and insular music. Though spins of this album aren’t entirely out of the question in a social setting, it seems most comfortable and appropriate for lonesome nights, when lucidity begins to fade and you sink into a somber sort of dream world.
Much as the owl can rotate his head 180 degrees, Goldfrapp have made a similar move artistically, creating an album that faces a direction opposite that of their prior two vampy efforts. Seventh Tree is a prettier, softer album, composed of lullabies and subtler pop songs. There is no “Ooh La La” or “Strict Machine,” though that isn’t to say that there isn’t a fair share of exciting material. It just manifests in different forms, ones less prone to dancefloor slithers and flamboyant displays. Leadoff track “Clowns” is a gently fingerpicked lullaby with gorgeous string embellishments that sound something like Air’s more atmospheric work, and, in fact, sound much better than Air’s entire last album.
“Little Bird” is a bit more energetic, but still ethereal and slight, with backward electronic sounds driving its chorus. A slight link to Goldfrapp’s previous albums emerges in “Happiness,” which has a beautiful electronic, Beatlesque bounce to it, with Alison’s refrain of “how’d you get to be happiness” sounding absolutely irresistible, not to mention catchy as hell. Lead single “A&E” is a bit of blissful lite pop that, while lacking the muscle of previous singles, is quite gorgeous. Most unexpected, and quite thrilling for that matter, is the Gainsbourg pastiche “Cologne Cerrone Houdini,” its strings and super cool bassline strutting like an ’08 update of “Cargo Culte.”
The other thing about owls is that they’re often associated with wisdom, so it’s only fitting that Goldfrapp hand in a more `mature’ album, at least by cliché rock critic standards. Supernature was a mature album as well, just filtered through less than subtle come-ons and raunchy synths. In this case, they’ve settled into a dreamy, beautiful realm that’s far, far different than what we’ve heard before, yet alluring and pleasant all the same.