Goldfrapp: Head First | CD of the week

Punch the air, say the synths… Alison Goldfrapp's in love

With the exception of their low-key debut, Felt Mountain (2000), the release of every Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory album has been a glad cultural event. The duo's second, Black Cherry (2003), emphasised the sexual motifs lurking in the Mitteleuropean fairytales of its predecessor. The discoid Supernature (2005) ramped up the inter-species possibilities, and utterly transformed Goldfrapp's fortunes. Goldfrapp's last album, the folk-tinged Seventh Tree, took a breather from all that acrylic rumpy-pumping and suffered an undeserved dip in sales.

Now it's all hands to the pump once again. On Head First Goldfrapp revisit the 80s more enthusiastically than ever before. Having pre-empted the wave of womanly electro, they appear now to be behind rather than ahead of the curve. In mitigation, theirs is a slightly different take on that inexhaustible decade, in which Van Halen's synth stabs loom large, and the ghosts of the 70s – Giorgio Moroder, Abba, ELO – are still abroad.

The sounds soar and squelch: as ever, Gregory's sound design impresses. But despite the plushness of the soundbed, much of Head First feels slight. It is a record dogged by a persistent cliche – the idea that misery is a better creative spur than joy. Alison Goldfrapp, it seems, is in love. But her happiness – heard on "Believer", "Alive" and "I Wanna Life" – makes for uneventful work, however much the synths instruct you to punch the air.

Eyebrows have been raised in other quarters because Goldfrapp's current squeeze is a woman, whom she met on the set for Nowhere Boy (Goldfrapp wrote the soundtrack). This change of circumstances lends "Rocket" an even more intriguing air. It's a fine single, promising much of what the album does not deliver (fun, lasers shooting out of palms). It's about getting rid of someone but the chorus is ripe for ribald interpretation. "I've got a rocket," sings Goldfrapp, "You're going on it…"

Even more fabulously, "Shiny And Warm" is a throwback to the old oompah, soundtracking a car journey at night. Goldfrapp's words are deliciously slurred and sticky, making you hope she is not at the wheel. "Dreaming" glides along elegantly on a dancefloor heat haze, finally matching intent to execution.

Tying it all off is "Voicething", a sound collage in which many pre-verbal Goldfrapps flit by – the sound of the duo flexing some vestigial art-muscles after all those star-jumps. If only their limbs, head and heart were co-ordinating more adroitly on this decent but unsurprising album.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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