If one single thing has characterised Alison Goldfrapp’s career in music, it must surely be a refusal to be characterised.
I first came across her work as a guest vocalist on tracks by Tricky and Orbital. Her vocal was distinct and mostly wordless, existing as a jazzy, textural counterpoint to the fragmented mid-1990s rhythms and pulses of the dance music scene. Her pairing with arranger, producer and vintage synth aficionado Will Gregory as the duo Goldfrapp in 2000 was an inspired pivot, leading her deservedly out of the shadows of the guest-vocalist-for-hire circuit to centre stage. Goldfrapp’s seven albums ran the full length from the sublime to the ridiculous, taking in everything from dreamy ambient chill-out torch songs to savagely direct electro-glam to folk to hi-NRG disco. More on that last point momentarily, but suffice to say that those albums underlined that singular notion of an artist reluctant to ever be pigeonholed.
And so, after thirty plus years of gracefully weaving her way through electronic music culture, the time feels right for a proper Alison Goldfrapp solo album. Produced with Richard X, who worked with Goldfrapp and Gregory on 2010’s neon-lit ‘Head First’, ‘The Love Invention’ is an inventive, open, honest, direct and impassioned love letter to hi-NRG disco, and easily one of the best things that Goldfrapp has ever recorded.
With the exception of the album’s final track, the beautiful, sensual ‘SLoFLo’ and svelte, diaristic ‘Hotel (Room 23)’ this is a resolutely upbeat, dancefloor-oriented collection, guaranteed to enervate the most jaded of souls. We find Goldfrapp in a blissful and soulful mood on the the album’s urgent title track, a paean to falling head over heels – recklessly, carelessly, dangerously – in love. A sense of unbridled euphoria dominates ‘Digging Deeper Now’, while an insistent dreaminess allows ‘Fever’ to ascend upwards like a loved-up angel. The edgy ‘So Hard So Hot’ is Goldfrapp’s deserved ‘I Feel Love’ moment, a stalking 303 passage making you rue the day you sold your Hardfloor collection underpinning a vocal that oscillates between carefree abandon and brooding danger.
‘Gatto Gelato’ is one of the most understated tracks on ‘The Love Invention’, delivered at a knowing mid-tempo pace. Goldfrapp’s vocal here is pure angelic ethereality, returning, in a way, to the sort of minimalist vocal chemistry that made her involvement in dance music’s halcyon days so essential. That vocal drifts fluidly over a backdrop of liquid bass notes and hazy, persuasive late-80s throwback melodies that seem to coalesce and harden climactically as the track progresses.
“You’ve arrived at the sublime,” sings Goldfrapp on the stunning opening track ‘NeverStop’. That lyric sums up this brilliant, brilliant – if overdue – debut album better than anything any reviewer could ever write. Welcome to Alison Goldfrapp’s paradisiacal, tempting, thrilling vision of the sublime.
Words: Mat Smith