Goldfrapp: Head First


RIYL: Olivia Newton-John, ABBA, Giorgio Moroder

Based purely on the duo’s reputation, you might think a new Goldfrapp album would be filled with the kind of trendsetting, cutting-edge synthpop that led Christina Aguilera to hire them as collaborators, but with Head First, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp don’t have the future on their minds; instead, they’ve hairsprayed Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals to a pillowy cloud of New Wave synths and turned the clock back to 1981. Close your eyes, and the resemblance to Olivia Newton-John is uncanny – the title track, in particular, sounds like a lost ON-J hit from decades ago. It’s kind of fitting that this album is coming out the same week as John Cusack’s “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

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In the wrong hands, this would be empty-calorie cheese, but Head First doesn’t sound like a cheeky exercise in retro irony – it really sounds like it came from the era it’s imitating, and although it’s true that the era in question was responsible for plenty of cruddy synth disco, this is no guilty pleasure, nor does it fall prey to the genre’s many campy pitfalls. If you’ve ever wanted to lace up your roller skates and pretend “Can’t Stop the Music” never happened, Head First might very well be your new “Xanadu.”

Of course, there really was a “Can’t Stop the Music,” and in the long run, Goldfrapp can’t pretend the last 25 years never happened any more than you can, which ultimately makes Head First little more than a really well-crafted stylistic detour – and, as a result, something of an artistic dead end. But so what? Dig your leg warmers out of storage and enjoy one of the sweetest bursts of pure pop pleasure you’re likely to hear all year. The artists that fell along this particular axis of ‘80s synth pop had their drawbacks, but their near-total lack of cynicism or irony was one of their biggest charms, and Goldfrapp has recaptured that spirit perfectly here. Do yourself a favor and follow their lead. (Mute 2010)

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