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Goldfrapp - Black Cherry

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Artist: Goldfrapp

Album: Black Cherry

Label: Mute

Review date: Jul. 15, 2003

Girls Gone Wild

Over the last few months, a couple of female artists have undergone rather striking metamorphoses. Indie singer-songwriter Liz Phair somehow managed to turn into Avril Lavigne and Jewel changed from an earnest guitar-strummer and doggerel poet into a dance-pop diva. Alison Goldfrapp has also reinvented herself somewhat on Black Cherry, an album whose title seems more appropriate to a niche-market porn mag or movie.

The cover art alone suggests that something's up. The sophisticated black and white Marlene Dietrich look of 2000's Felt Mountain is gone, replaced by a supremely tacky montage featuring Ms. Goldfrapp done up like a New Wave tart. A larger fold-out photo spread on the CD sleeve is even more to the point, underscoring her transformation from a pallid silent-movie star to a full-color sex kitten, the sort of disco dolly lured to a life of vice that Marc Almond sang about on "Sex Dwarf." (Actually, the photo is mildly troubling with its kiddie porn connotations.)

Much of the material on Black Cherry resonates with the image change. Although it shows some continuity with Felt Mountain, for the most part Goldfrapp abandons the previous album's chilled out, theatrical atmospherics and instead immerses herself and Will Gregory (the other half of this duo) in some rather sleazy, bumping-and-grinding electro-pop. This change hasn't happened overnight - live performances after Felt Mountain more than hinted at a new direction, particularly with audiences being treated to rousing renditions of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical." Surprisingly enough, this isn't such a bad idea.

Black Cherry is more Cabaret Voltaire than Weimar cabaret. However, while Goldfrapp's new sound calls to mind the likes of the Human League, Donna Summer, and Soft Cell, it's more than the sum of those parts and benefits from much heavier beats than many of its apparent influences.

The most infectious numbers find Goldfrapp getting down and dirty amid all manner of analog skronking and throbbing, parping and farting, buzzing and belching. It's wonderfully perverse stuff, from "Tiptoe," with its pre-Oedipal gelatinous squelches, to the distinctly adult, oral sex-themed "Twist," complete with orgasmic shrieks. Forget electroclash, this is brilliant electrotrash.

And it only gets better. The hypnotic electro-glam thumper "Train" could be that long-lost collaboration between BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Delia Derbyshire and the Glitter Band. Elsewhere, Goldfrapp whips us into shape with the S&M groove of "Strict Machine," a hybrid of Dr. Who's TARDIS and Hawkwind's "Silver Machine."

Amid all this hot 'n' sweaty musical rumpy-pumpy, there are several quieter interludes that enable listeners to catch their breath and compose themselves. The title track and "Deep Honey" have something of the lush strings and the theatricality of the first album but the most memorable of these more sedate numbers is "Hairy Trees," with its symphonic sweep and trip-hop ambience.

Unfortunately, though, once you've tasted the forbidden fruit of Black Cherry's nastier side, these tracks leave you unfulfilled, giving the record a frustratingly uneven and incomplete feel. The listening experience is akin to watching a good porn movie (whatever your definition) with snippets of a documentary on the British countryside randomly interspersed. A whole album's worth of sleaze and aural sex would have been more satisfying.

By Wilson Neate

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