NOTE: The videos posted with this review are NOT safe for work. We repeat, NSFW.
Goldfrapp’s 2010 album Head First found them doing retro synth pop and it was a catchy delight, but I’ve always preferred their more organic records, namely their 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, and 2008’s Seventh Tree. I’m pleased to say that their new album, Tales Of Us, seems to pick up right where Seventh Tree left off. That said, Goldfrapp never make the same album twice — even Supernature and Black Cherry have their subtle differences — and Tales Of Us differs from anything the duo has done before on many levels.
The album has been described as a collection of character sketches and that would seem to explain why all but one of the song titles are names. But these characters are not easy to understand. By and large, they feel more like hallucinations than actual people. They’re vague and mysterious and rather ambiguous. Each time you listen to it, you’ll find yourself imagining its characters differently. You simply can not grasp them. The second you think you can touch them, they shape-shift into something else or dissolve away entirely. Even in terms of the music, you can listen to the album five different times and hear five different things. Sometimes Alison’s haunting vocals leap out at you, other times it’s the strings. But you will certainly find the album intoxicating each time you listen to it. It’s perhaps best listened to at night when you’re lying in bed, less you stumble and fall if it renders you dizzy, which it’s plenty capable of doing.
“Run, you better run, you better run, you better run for your life” -“Jo”
Although it’s also very beautiful, I think it’s safe to say that Tales Of Us is Goldfrapp’s darkest album yet. Whenever I listen to it, I always imagine everything that’s described happening at night. I can’t envision any of the scenes happening under daylight. I’ve tried to, but it’s somehow impossible. Perhaps your experience will be different. It may very well be, much being left open to interpretation.
“When you dream, your only dream, you’re Annabel / All the secrets, there inside you, Annabel” -“Annabel”
Those looking for big beats and jumbo choruses will likely be disappointed by Tales Of Us. It’s not until six tracks in on “Thea” that it has any significant beat to speak of, but even then we’re not talking about a dance beat, or even a pop beat. It’s very organic-sounding and, although it may be insistent, it’s more mesmerizing than contagious.
Tales Of Us seems to take place in the grey area where a dream could potentially turn into a nightmare. There aren’t many albums that can give you that experience while you’re awake. Suffice to say it’s a tremendous, spell-binding accomplishment.