Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree

It’s always a bit of a shock when seemingly new things turn up to celebrate their birthday. Goldfrapp‘s fourth album Seventh Tree is ten years old already – how on earth did that happen?

Having gradually appeared out of nowhere with Felt Mountain (2000), Goldfrapp had reinvented glam electronica with Black Cherry in 2003, and after a couple of years of fighting to break the charts, finally made it with Supernature in 2005. Having made it to the big time, Seventh Tree should have been hard work, but it just sounds so effortless.

It opens with Clowns, a beautifully forested track which was probably recorded in the middle of a wood. It turned up as the fourth single, as a somewhat mundane two-track release backed with an alternative version of Happiness, but it’s a lovely song.

Little Bird is next, another sweet track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the 1960s. Listening now, it’s delightfully analogue after the dark glam of the previous couple of albums, but admittedly it came as a bit of a shock at the time.

Happiness is by far the best track on here, the second single, and while that release would absolutely have been better if Rex the Dog‘s version had made it on, the bouncy video does make up for that. But bluntly, Goldfrapp singles tend to seem a bit thrown together, and so in traditional form, that video actually appears on the Caravan Girl single that followed. All of that aside, this is absolutely one of Goldfrapp‘s finest singles and a standout track – probably the standout track – on this album.

Road to Somewhere is nice, as is Eat Yourself, particularly with the cello work on both of them, but neither is quite up to the high standard set by Happiness. Then Some People is probably the low point on here – I’d be very surprised if you remember it a couple of hours after listening.

Lead single A&E is next, a perplexing choice as opening single, but a pleasant spring-like country song. The semi-orchestral funk of Cologne Cerrone Houdini does fit nicely here though. The bridge hints at some of the warm magic of Felt Mountain, and the chorus is wonderfully catchy.

The third single was Caravan Girl, and that turns up as penultimate track, full of gusto. It’s a good song, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem to deliver after a very promising build through each verse and bridge. Then finally, Monster Love is a sweet and enormous piece full of rippling synths and choral effects. It’s a good closer to a generally strong album.

Four albums in, Goldfrapp had confidently demonstrated an ability to make sweet and lush alpine pop, glam electro, and now orchestral semi-electronic country. Next stop? The 1980s, obviously. But that’s another review for another time.

You can still find Seventh Tree at major retailers.

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Chart for stowaways – 27 January 2018

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  3. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  4. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  5. Yazoo – Only You
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  7. Saint Etienne – Dive
  8. Kylie Minogue – Dancing
  9. Fever Ray – To the Moon and Back
  10. David Bowie – Beauty and the Beast

Stowaway Awards 2018

After all the excitement of previous years, I’ve decided to tone down the Stowaway Awards a little this year, with just six categories. Here they are, with the full lists of nominees!

Best Track

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  • Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish for!
  • Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
  • Goldfrapp – Become the One
  • Kraftwerk – Radioaktivität
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  • Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  • Saint Etienne – Whyteleaf
  • Sparks – Scandinavian Design
  • Yazoo – Only You

We announced the winner already – it’s Depeche Mode.

Best Album

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit
  • Erasure – World Be Gone
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  • Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus

The winner is Depeche Mode.

Best Reissue / Compilation

Nominees:

  • Liza Minnelli – Results
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury: B Sides & Bonus Material
  • Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  • Pet Shop Boys – Release
  • Pet Shop Boys – Yes

The winner is Pet Shop Boys, for Release.

Best Artist

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Goldfrapp
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sparks

This year’s winner is Sparks.

Best Live Act

Nominees:

  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • múm

The winner is Jean-Michel Jarre.

Outstanding Contribution

Nominees:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • The Future Sound of London
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The winner: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Massive Attack – 100th Window

Released fifteen years ago this week, 100th Window was Massive Attack‘s fourth album, released five years after Mezzanine. With increasingly long pauses between each release, Daddy G stepped aside for this album and left Robert “3D” del Naja to record it pretty much on his own, with the help of a lot of guests and co-producer Neil Davidge.

It opens with Future Proof, a dark but engaging return to form with 3D delivering the vocals. You could definitely hope for something more pop-flavoured, but not really for anything much better than this. Then, of all people, Sinéad O’Connor appears to deliver the dull second track What Your Soul Sings.

Horace Andy, long a mainstay of Massive Attack releases, turns up for the pleasant but entirely forgettable Everywhen. The tracks here are long – there’s nothing shorter than five minutes on the entire release – and they’re mostly pretty grungy and dark. There’s a certain apocalyptic beauty to this album, but somehow it doesn’t quite feel like Massive Attack. Even when Horace Andy is delivering the vocals.

Next is Special Cases, another collaboration with Sinéad O’Connor. This was the lead single, and is considerably more engaging than the earlier collaboration, although still far from either act’s finest work. Then the second single follows straight after, Butterfly Caught, which is a 3D solo effort, and is pretty good as well (although some of the remixes on the single livened it up and elevated it somewhat). For the first time in a few tracks, the deep atmosphere and lyrical work really seem to come together particularly well.

Sinéad O’Connor is back next, this time for A Prayer for England, which unfortunately comes across as a rather dreary track. It’s a shame given the moving subject matter – it’s about children killed in England during the troubles – but somehow as a song I’m not convinced that it quite works.

Then comes Small Time Shot Away, which adds Damon Albarn as “2D” on backing vocals, although I’m not sure you would ever notice if you didn’t know that. Nothing special here either, unfortunately. As with the rest of the album, it’s fine as background music, but it would never change and inspire the world in the way that Blue LinesProtection, or Mezzanine did.

Horace Andy returns for Name Taken, another of the stronger tracks on here. When this album works well, the deeply atmospheric backing and abstract vocals come together to form a pleasant track. It’s not – let’s be blunt – something that was ever going to get to the top of the charts, but I don’t think that’s what del Naja was really aiming for here.

The album did, actually – perhaps surprisingly, but Special Cases was a respectable hit, charting at number 15 in the UK, and probably with a significant boost from their previous reputation, the first Massive Attack album in five years shot to the top of the charts, giving them their second number one. But whereas all its predecessors have long since reached double platinum status, this one only went gold.

Finally we get Antistar, perhaps one of the liveliest tracks on here, with a rippling arpeggio that turns up half way through. It’s still dark, but it’s a touch more uplifting than most of its neighbours. The good news is that while your music player might tell you this track is just shy of twenty minutes long, it isn’t – it’s about eight minutes, and then there’s a bit of silence before an almost intolerably dreary hidden track that closes the album out, although that does last ten minutes by itself.

So is 100th Window worth tracking down? Well yes – it’s a good album. Just don’t go into it expecting your world to be changed in the way it was when you listened to any of their earlier efforts, and you might just be pleasantly surprised. This is a single-minded, somewhat depressed and introspective Massive Attack, but they still have plenty to say for themselves.

You can still find 100th Window at all major music retailers, including here.