Thinking man’s diva revels in ’80s-pop artifice
Alison Goldfrapp never does anything halfway. From the icy, otherworldly electro-acoustic soundscapes of 2000’s Felt Mountain to her subsequent romps through dance-pop and leering glam, she’s become a more dangerous and dignified counterpart to the look-at-me theatrics of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Now, following an unexpected shift toward pastoral psych-pop on 2008’s Seventh Tree, she and collaborator Will Gregory have circled back to dance music, this time with a pronounced emphasis on ’80s synth-pop and Italo disco.
Dusting off her most aggressively retro laser-beam synth settings, Head First evokes an era as much as a sound, offering instant gratification with bubbly hooks, nimble arrangements and relentlessly stylized production. Neither mysterious nor seductive, Goldfrapp vacillates between quiet longing and head-over-heels love tropes, rarely baring her fangs in the process. As both a concept and an insular set of songs, it works. But for an act that’s always found its footing in the future, it’s puzzling that the duo find their present rooted so firmly in the past.