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.”


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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Various Artists: Wizards of Waverly Place

First, we’ll pause as everyone gets their ‘Disney kids suck’ jokes out of their system. All finished? Good, now let’s move on. Truth be told, we nearly deleted the email promoting this CD on sight, but took a cursory glance, then wrote the rep and said, “Send this pronto.” The reason? Cover versions, cover versions and more cover versions of songs having to do with, surprise, magic. Nothing here transcends the original recordings, of course, but some of them fare better than you might expect. Selena Gomez turns in a rather good performance of Pilot’s “Magic” (it is not coincidence that Gomez, the best singer here, gets the album’s first three tracks), and Meaghan Martin turns in a disciplined, if breathy, performance on the cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic.” The boys, however, do not fare as well. Steve Rushton is completely overpowered by ELO’s “Strange Magic” (though producer John Fields assembles a nifty arrangement), as is Mitchel Musso by “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” Honor Society’s version of the Cars’ “Magic,” meanwhile, is as fluffy and throwaway as the original, and Drew Seeley’s cover of America’s “You Can Do Magic” is destroyed by an oh-so-trendy 6/8 beat and a pinched vocal. The end result is exactly what you’d expect from a collection of Disney-sanctioned covers: overproduced and kid-friendly, but not without its, um, charms. (Walt Disney Records 2009)