What? Goldfrapp have done a singles compilation? Already? Suddenly it seems as though they have been around for a very long time. Released at the start of 2012, The Singles is a miniature compilation of some of Goldfrapp‘s greatest hits going right back to Felt Mountain in 2000.
Their musical career started with a very slow burner. Felt Mountain eventually peaked at number 57 in the UK and somehow managed to go gold, mainly just as a word-of-mouth success. The whole album is infused with a deliciously Alpine twist, with lyrics that don’t quite make sense but build an astonishingly poetic and atmospheric vista. Like everyone else, I came across it maybe a year or so after it originally came out, and was immediately captivated.
Having spent the following year or so gradually tracking down singles, I was therefore inevitably blown away by their comeback in mid 2003. Train has a similar lyrical approach to its predecessors, but a totally different energy – grimy, sexy, rhythmic and dirty, but at the same time accessible and wonderful. Goldfrapp had finally gone electro, and the entire Black Cherry album is about as close to perfection as anyone could ever reasonably be expected to achieve.
By 2005, commercial success was still largely eluding them, while other pop upstarts were channelling their sound and getting substantial hits out of it. So it was perhaps inevitable that the next album, Supernature would be less creative and more pop. And so it is. What it lacks in terms of the perfection of the first two albums, it more than makes up for with glam pop energy.
But the bubble had definitely burst. 2008’s Seventh Tree was a pleasant enough attempt to reconnect with their more laid back roots, but somehow seemed to be lacking the wow factor of earlier years. Most recently, Head First (2010) seems to have been born of an oddly misguided attempt to “go retro” and sadly has relatively little to say for itself.
So their first singles compilation was always going to be a bit of a mixed bag. The openers on The Singles are their two biggest hits, Ooh La La and Number 1, both originally from Supernature, which are followed by their natural predecessor Strict Machine. Finally the pace drops with the two most perfect tracks from Felt Mountain, Lovely Head and Utopia.
You’re then dropped into the two best tracks from Seventh Tree, A&E and the totally brilliant Happiness, the pace climbs again for Train and Ride a White Horse, then shifts to two tracks from Head First, Rocket and Believer before dropping tempo again for Black Cherry.
Overall though, it sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? A compilation by numbers? Well, yes it is, unfortunately. There’s a lot to be said for it in many ways. The artwork is ingenious (it combines all five studio albums in a single collage), the hits are many, and all the less good tracks have been kindly skipped.
It’s worth a special word too for the two new tracks on the end, Yellow Halo and Melancholy Sky, as both are truly exceptional. I wonder if they’re perhaps unfinished demos from earlier eras, maybe from Seventh Tree, but somehow better than what’s actually on the album. Maybe Goldfrapp would be interested in returning to those kinds of songs in future? It would definitely be appreciated!
There are several notable omissions, which for an album which clocks in well under an hour is a little strange. Human would have been nice; Pilots definitely should have been on there. Twist, Fly Me Away and Caravan Girl would have been useful additions. Their 2006 cover of Boys Will Be Boys would have been a lovely rarity, as would Number 1‘s b-side Beautiful, which inexplicably never made it properly onto a proper album.
But it’s not even that. Somehow listening to The Singles the whole thing just feels unsatisfactory. It’s like a club DJ who’s just playing a minute or so of each track before mixing it into something else – you’re just about starting to enjoy it when the mood changes entirely. Goldfrapp, then, are definitely best taken in full album form. If you don’t own anything by them, this is probably a good place to start, but otherwise unfortunately it may well serve only to annoy you!