Out on March 23, 2010 in the States, Alison Goldfrapp released her eponymous synth duo’s 6th proper full-album release since 2000’s Felt Mountain. I could be romanticizing all the work she does and projecting certain tenets onto her just because she’s English, but I’m going to say it anyway—she’s the rare picture of a committed career musician in a sixties or seventies mold. She, along with bandmate Will Gregory, can release an album of Madonna-meets-Bowie synth Glam and follow it up with weird ballads about living in the woods and wearing pointy shoes. She alternates and plays with new styles album to album, and she never seems to stop working. I have to be honest and say that I’m glad she always comes back to the dance stuff.
Head First is a departure from her earlier dance records in that it explores a much more nuanced set of keyboard tones than on earlier releases. Her voice is given highest priority in every mix, while the unison synthesizers flesh out all the other bands of frequency her voice doesn’t occupy. The lead patch on “Rocket” is reminiscent of the one used on Van Halen’s “Jump.” It just fills the room without getting in the way.
My favorite track on the record is “Shiny and Warm,” in which Alison’s barely articulated mumbling purr is still loudly at the front of the mix with her trademark reverb effects heavily applied. She growls over a deadly-simple arrangement of drum track/bass line whose instruments yield rich, rich rewards for those trying to decipher what the duo were doing when they programmed it.
Despite the bombastic stadium-ready nature of this album, the buzzword for the record is subtlety. There isn’t one second of this recording that doesn’t sound as though its mixing and sound design wasn’t agonized over. At every turn it is obvious someone thought long and hard over whether, say, that little high-pitched chirping coming in over the bass line in “Shiny and Warm” was coming a little too close to the front of the mix for too long and whether or not it ought really to be pulled back a bit, just to leave a taste to pique the curiosity.
I’d say it’s about subtlety thematically, too. Again, I may be projecting because of my own circumstances, but songs like “Alive,” “I Wanna Life,” and “Believer” are all in one way or another about commitment. The snarling dancefloor minx Alison Goldfrapp is sneaking a little bit of perpetuity into your Saturday night.