Since their debut at the turn of the millennium, Goldfrapp haven’t been afraid to toy with the components that characterise their music. Be it the cinematic, eerie quirk of the debut with tracks like “Lovely Head” and “Oompah Radar”, the thumping, rasping electronica of the two releases that followed it, well demonstrated by “Crystalline Green” and “Ride a White Horse”, or the warm, folksy, hug of their new direction that came eight years later, lead by the likes of “A&E” and “Happiness”. Since then, the electronic duo have only continued to remain restless, returning to an, albeit cleaner, neo-retro, electronic sound in 2010, before U-turning back with a dramatic, string-soaked release in 2013.
Consequently, long time fans have learnt to expect nothing but a synth, some drama, and Alison Goldfrapp’s silky smooth, ethereal vocals in one guise or another. Their latest album certainly brings together all three elements, with a substantial, rasp-laden sound reminiscent of Black Cherry and Supernature.
From the opener, it’s clear Goldfrapp are in an electronic mood, and the follow-up track cements this complexion with an even harsher instrumental, fitted with a chorus of Alison Goldfrapp vocals in each ear. Even downtempo tracks like “Tigerman” and “Faux Suede Drifter” plunge the listener into sci-fi space, with synth stabs flying across the stereo field and twinkling pads lining the background. Both tracks develop into warm, rich instrumentals with plenty of drama to boot.
After the first third of enticing tracks, which alternate between thumping and hypnotising the listener, there’s a second third that feels as though it drifts a little too far into space. “Zodiac Black”, which sends the listener floating across a sparkling wash of sound into a far more ominous, looming, cavernous beat, is intriguing at the outset, but isn’t followed up by the vocals, which instead wisp and swirl, and fail to leave a solid impression that the instrumental (particularly the beat) sets them up to do. Unfortunately, “Beast That Never Was” is a similar story, and sounds all too familiar besides the menace in its beat.
Lyrically, it still feels like a Goldfrapp album on the whole, with callbacks to previous tracks, reflection and – a common theme in this album particularly – transformation. But there isn’t anything quite as memorable or, ironically, transformative here as we’ve seen on previous releases. The same middle third where the vocals float along also seems to be the portion where the lyrics do little more than accompany the atmosphere.
The final stretch of the album does pull things back however, hoisting the tempo back up with “Everything Is Never Enough” and rounding things off with “Ocean”, which piqued my interest again. With a dramatic, slow decaying growl to line the track, and vocals that Alison Goldfrapp sang spontaneously during one recording session, the track feels as though emotion was very faithfully committed to music, with vocals that show a slightly different side to Goldfrapp’s voice.
It’s a new release that may not tick everyone’s box then. With a good handful of predictable and familiar moments on this album, Silver Eye does little to eclipse some of their more formative releases. While the amalgamation of many of their previous explorations is certainly wonderful to hear, and would no doubt make for a magical live performance, one can’t help but feel a small twinge of disappointment after the many expectation-shattering shifts that we’ve seen from the duo in the past.