Music Reviews
Tales Of Us

Goldfrapp Tales Of Us

(Mute) Rating - 7/10

''People lack all feelings/ over the city tonight'' Alison Goldfrapp sibilates on opening track Jo, while a two-note piano sequence pulses between each verse. Gone is the disco romp of Head First and the synth groove of songs like 2005’s Ooh La La. Proudly present are crescendoing strings, silky cello flourishes, and an atmospheric beauty so invested in itself that it’s hard not to wonder whether desolation really feels as awful as we think it does. The result is their most cohesive, satisfying and sophisticated record since Felt Mountain.

It all comes down to the adjective ‘’cinematic’’.  Supposedly inspired by Alison’s love of ‘’fantasy noir fairytales’’ and David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni films, Tales Of Us spares no one and makes no attempt to hide or dilute its influences. Goldfrapp are no strangers to reinvention, experimentation or shifts in artistic direction (2008’s Seventh Tree is a prime example), however the level to which they adhere to this cinematic concept on this current release is to be noted. With nine out of their ten songs named after bygone paramours (and what pretentious names! One almost wonders whether this album would even exist if Goldfrapp had gone after lovers named Jane and John instead of Thea and Ullar), and every track confidently leaning on the same wispy, somber blueprint, Tales Of Us could have been a self-indulgent exercise in snoozy film score-lite suites. But by the sheer power of its own conviction and streamlined vision, it simply isn’t that. Leave it up to the British duo to turn would-be vices into musical virtues.

The record’s main strengths lie in its restraint and in Alison’s inimitable talent for curling her husky voice around any melody. Closing track Clay  layers its instruments as the song progresses, strings always riffing in the background while Alison’s vocals propel the song forward with such a sense of urgency that when the track reaches its abrupt finish, the listener is left hanging. Meanwhile in our heads, her ghost-like, disembodied harmonies spiral about long after the album’s end. As a sonic statement, it is one of their most effective, together with the decision to trim the track list down to ten songs. Even if the songs do too much swirling around lyrically for any outstanding theme to manifest itself (the one track not named after a lover, Stranger, possesses the closest thing to a memorable line: ‘’you’re the in between/ boy or girl’’), there is something to be said about the precision of the instrumentation on Tales Of Us. Despite the heavy reliance on swelling orchestras and noir imagery, each cut remains distinct and unblended. Every song carries its own weight, and manages to remain rooted in that characteristic Goldfrapp ethereality, even as the mood takes a turn for the sinister.

Writing music is apparently a visual process for Goldfrapp, to paraphrase a quote from the other half of the duo Will Gregory. Following that logic then, Tales Of Us is smoke and black & white cinema and late-night loneliness (think the musical equivalent of Hopper’s ‘’Nighthawks''). It is a relative of Shirley Bassey and Portishead and Alexandre Desplat pieces. It is a landscape of wistful solitude and graceful introspection that precludes any attempt to isolate specific tracks for the sake of a single. It is a solid and dependable album, sure of its own purpose yet ready to complement those poignant moments when all that seems to be missing is a cue for the dramatic music to start. For those who crave some tasteful melodrama, Goldfrapp waste no time trying to bore or impress. Dim the lights, start the smoke machines (or better yet, grab some hi-fi headphones) and just hit play.