I must confess, I do find it rather hard not to get very excited when I hear Goldfrapp have new material on its way. It’s true that the last time we heard from them was their totally lacklustre compilation The Singles (2012), and even prior to that, neither Head First (2010) nor Seventh Tree (2008) had really gone out of their way to blow the audience out of the water.
But when they’re good, they’re incredibly good, as their first three albums proved without a shadow of doubt. But could they reach those dizzy heights again, or were they forever condemned to churn out dull and unmemorable retro kitsch? Well yes they could, as it turned out, and no they weren’t. Tales of Us is quite exceptional.
The opening track is my personal favourite on the whole album, Jo. It’s really rather beautiful, full of pastoral charm and atmosphere. It’s driven primarily by an almost whispered vocal from Alison Goldfrapp, with gentle piano and string backing.
Annabel is another beautiful song, with bubbling guitar arpeggios and strings. Famously Alison started her career as an artist, and so it should be no surprise that Goldfrapp‘s speciality is a very strong line in concept albums, from the Alpine Felt Mountain (2000) to the electro-pop of Supernature (2005). On Tales of Us every track (except Stranger) is named after a person, and the gloriously rural mood makes the whole thing sound more like a small village than a pop album.
Drew opens with birdsong, before rippling its way into another beautiful acoustic track. As with the Goldfrapp of old, the lyrics are largely difficult to discern, and I’m not going to spoil the mood by looking them up – even so, the whole mood is beautifully evocative.
Ulla has a lovely choral vocal (something about caribou?) and a gently orchestral mood, but a less catchy chorus than some of the earlier tracks. Alvar – which is a pretty unusual name – has an odd darkness to it which is strangely compelling, and by the time it ends you’re half way through the album already.
The second half starts with the curiously chugging beats of Thea. The verses are a little drawn out, but they quickly build into a classic Goldfrapp chorus – catchy, slightly eccentric, and incredibly lovely. Likewise Simone, in which Alison tells us something about how “you’re insatiable,” has an incredibly sweet feeling to it.
Stranger, a melancholic love song for an unknown stranger, is incredibly evocative, and almost channels their 2000 debut single Lovely Head at times. This album really is a return to form in every sense of the term.
Laurel is simple and minimalist, driven solely by Alison’s vocal and a reverb-heavy piano. As the song goes on, strings and chimes appear, but the focus is simply on the cold and dark melancholy of the vocal. It’s truly beautiful.
The final song is Clay, although it’s difficult to know whether that’s the individual’s name or the material from which he was fashioned. After the sadness of some of the other tracks, this is positively jaunty, and while it’s still difficult to know what’s actually going on here without consulting the lyrics, it still closes off a very sweet album in appropriately lovely fashion.
It’s taken Goldfrapp nearly a decade and a half to get this close to the sound of their original album Felt Mountain, but it’s a welcome return. And finally we can say with confidence that wherever they take us next, it’s going to be pretty special.
There is a deluxe box set for Tales of Us, but I couldn’t work out how to justify the additional cost, so I’d advise just going for the standard edition from all major retailers.