Wild Mercury Sound

Goldfrapp's "Seventh Tree"

John Mulvey

I’ve been feeling a pang for the country for a while now, probably brought on by reading Robert MacFarlane’s two wonderful books, “The Wild Places” and “Mountains Of The Mind”; not even a Sunday spent on Walthamstow Marshes could cure me. In the same mood, I was walking to work through the City this morning, just as the sun was struggling to burn off the fog, playing Vaughan Williams and the second CD of Kate Bush’s “Aerial”.

“Aerial” is an album I’ve come back to more than most over the past few years, in spite of parts of it making me think of some people a little older than me (an interestingly self-conscious distinction, perhaps) dancing in the garden of their holiday home to a “Café Del Mar” comp after the children have gone to bed.

But anyway, another reason to revisit “Aerial” was that I’ve been playing Goldfrapp’s “Seventh Tree” a fair bit these past few days, and there are definite similarities between the two records. I’ve been fairly equivocal about Goldfrapp’s music in the past; sort of distantly admiring of how the duo create conceptual art out of music – disco, glam and so on – that’s often revisited for kitsch or nostalgic purposes. Nevertheless, I’ve always been mildly irritated by journalists who persist in telling me how “sexy” Goldfrapp’s music is, as if shuffling a bunch of quasi-erotic signifiers can automatically send a listener into some kind of uncontrollable erotic state. None of it is that straightforward, of course.

“Seventh Tree” has arrived with another easily-digestible myth for critics; it’s a folk album, apparently, a retreat to the country and acoustic instruments – or at least samples of acoustic instruments – by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. And certainly “Clowns”, the opening track, compounds that impression, willowy and hazy like parts of “Aerial”, and also very like Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man’s “Out Of Season” (I’ll blog about Portishead soon, by the way).

Much of this is lovely music, though Goldfrapp’s evocation of the English countryside is even more unworldly and meticulous than that of Bush. You’d imagine that such a calculating, technologically-augmented “folk” would be rather offputting, not least because the duo often draw on ‘80s Europop (especially on “Happiness”) as much as “The Wicker Man” or the Cocteau Twins, and Alison Goldfrapp sounds as sternly controlled and distant as ever, dew-laden ululations notwithstanding.

The thing is, it works precisely because it’s such a studied, implausible confection. I was watching the video for “A&E” yesterday, with Goldfrapp lying in a woodland glade, only to be joined by a dancing troupe of hunky creatures apparently built from leaves and mulch. It’s daft and preposterous, and very far from the sort of landscape music I usually favour. But in its hyper-saturated, studiously magical way, it’s quite powerful, and certainly very enjoyable. Now, where are my hiking boots?


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