Looking back on Goldfrapp’s first two albums, Felt Mountain and Black Cherry, respectively, it almost seems like the work of two entirely different groups. The former found their muse cinematic soundscapes, crafting eerie trip-hop rivaled Broadcast and Portishead in terms of moody, stunning atmosphere. Yet its follow-up was a dance album, unapologetically synthetic and trashy, yet arty all the same. Needless to say, not everybody who liked the first album fell in love with the second, thus creating a divide quite early on. Yet listening to Supernature, the band’s third album, all of the fragmented and juxtaposed elements seem to fall in place, and the transition strangely begins to make sense.
If Felt Mountain and Black Cherry are two polar extremes, Supernature is the album that bridges the gap, finding harmony between Mountain‘s haunting ambience and Cherry‘s electro-disco. Yet, it only feels right being the final third in the trilogy, as the balance finds Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory sounding more comfortable in their cybernetic skin, perfecting and evolving the reverberations of albums past.
On the one hand, it’s still, primarily, a dance album. But it’s kind of a weird one. It has all of the proper elements required to get the asses shaking, but at times, it really wants to be a rock record. Opener and hit UK single “Ooh La La” is more Bolan than Ciccone, swaying and swaggering with the most glam-rock of rhythms. The glitter and the gloss aren’t sacrificed for pomp and cockiness, which makes the song all the more commanding an introduction than your typical Diva exercise. “Ride A White Horse” doesn’t necessarily sound like T. Rex, but you can’t deny the titular similarity. Apparently, however, this white horse (not heroin) is a common theme for Goldfrapp, who even mentioned it in her Under the Radar year-end survey. And it fits in with the odd, animorphic imagery on the album’s cover. The song, meanwhile, is a throbbing, pulsating, dance floor smash, Goldfrapp singing “I’ll be dancing at the disco/when you buy your Winnebago” like an android Marlene Deitrich. I’ve probably listened to this song on my iPod more times than any other song released this year, now that I think about it, which is some testament to its merits.
On the other hand, Supernature is a bit esoteric and oblique. “You Never Know,” with its start-stop, plodding rhythms is sonically similar to DNTEL matched with Timbaland in slo-mo, only with more strings. Yet, “Let It Take You” hearkens back to the moody sound of Felt Mountain, ethereal and gorgeous, pristine in its minimal piano melodies. And “Time Out From the World” even takes on a John Barry homage of sorts, a “Nobody Does It Better” for the post-electroclash age.
Even if Supernature is on the weird side, it’s the energetic, fun side that wins out most. “Fly Me Away” carries both an air of soft sensuality and one of hip-swiveling motion, that it’s one of the best examples of how the group’s sound has matured into an innovative, yet accessible hybrid. And when the bouncy “Satin Chic” kicks in, you can’t help but forgive the band for occasionally letting the glitter win out over the gloom.
It seems only fitting that, in the UK, Supernature is Goldfrapp’s highest charting album. Never strangers to a hook, there’s no denying the catchiness of Goldfrapp’s singles. But it’s the hooks combined with a come-hither stare, a billow of smoke, a flick of the wrist and perhaps even a drop or two of blood. Madonna hasn’t been this intriguing in decades. Gwen Stefani never has been. The thing is, Goldfrapp didn’t need a Top 40 hit for this album to be so good. That there is no shortage of them is merely an added bonus.