Goldfrapp - Biography
When a group drastically changes direction in their sound, they could be in for a dreadful backlash. In 2000, Goldfrapp’s debut, Felt Mountain (Mute), took many listeners by surprise with its cinematic, trapped-in-a-haunted-house claustrophobia. The real surprise, however, came three years later, when the duo released an album of dancey, glammy, electro-pop songs and its lead singer Allison Goldfrapp’s persona morphed into that of a detached dominatrix. There really wasn’t a backlash for Goldfrapp however, which may be due to the fact that they accomplished their shape-shifting early and convincingly. After sticking with their new sound for one more album, Goldfrapp released Seventh Tree (Mute) in 2008, opting for a simplified set of acoustic, radio-friendly pop. No matter how they vary their sound, Goldfrapp’s music has always been grandiose and expansive, with one convincing and compelling performance after another from the woman standing at the microphone.
Allison Goldfrapp grew up in Alton, Hampshire in England. She attended convent school, but was asked to leave because of her lackluster grades. She moved on to comprehensive school, which she hated. Then there was the school of hard knocks, which found Goldfrapp living in bed-sits and answering ads in music magazines. Friends encouraged her to pursue a music career, but she instead chose to attend Middlesex University and study art. Allison ventured deeper into music during her studies. Over time, her installation pieces became more and more sound and performance-based. In attendance at one of these performances were Phil and Paul Hartnoll, otherwise known as Orbital, who subsequently extended her an invitation to sing on their 1994 album Snivilisation (FFRR). The following year, up-and-coming trip-hop icon Tricky invited Goldfrapp to sing on “Pumpkin” for his debut album, Maxinquaye (Island). Goldfrapp toured with Tricky for two years after that. In addition, she accepted offers from Add N to X (she appears on 1999’s Avant Hard [Mute]) and Bryan Ferry, though nothing was released from the latter collaboration.
Towards the end of the ‘90s, Goldfrapp had a small arsenal of original compositions, which she had recorded onto demo tapes. One of these demos, a song called “Human,” found its way into the hands of film and television composer Will Gregory. The composer was impressed and asked Goldfrapp to collaborate with him on a film soundtrack. Although the project never came to fruition, the pair of musicians realized their shared potential. After a period in which several tapes were exchanged via postage, Gregory and Goldfrapp decided to begin their own group, taking Allison’s last name as their moniker.
Signed to London indie record label Mute in 1999 (after a slew of rejections from major labels), the duo began diligently recording that September. The proceedings took place in a Wiltshire bungalow, where they found themselves sharing space with spiders, moths, and mice. This was especially troublesome for Allison, who was often by herself in the studio, slowly falling prey to cabin fever. She stuck it out, however, and in six months’ time, Goldfrapp had a finished LP on their hands. Felt Mountain (2000 Mute) was almost unanimously hailed as a masterwork upon its release. One can hear Gregory’s knack for film-scoring on every track, as most songs fall between an Ennio Morricone composition and the theme song to the creepiest James Bond film ever made. The accompanying music videos served to heighten the paranoia-inducing tendency of songs like “Human.” Legendary German film director Werner Herzog directed the video for “Lovely Head.” Two more singles, “Pilots (On a Star)” and “Utopia,” proved successful, and after the album reached 51 on the UK charts and earned its gold certification, Felt Mountain was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize in 2001. It lost to PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea.
2001 saw the release of the EP Utopia Genetically Enriched (Mute). The rest of that year was spent on the road supporting The Doves and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Reproducing the sound of Felt Mountain on stage proved difficult. Realizing that an exact replication of the album’s sound would require as many as 40 musicians, Goldfrapp had to settle for six: Allison, Gregory, a violinist, a keyboardist, a drummer, and a guitarist. The duo returned to the recording process in 2002. Their choice of location this time was more conventional, but only slightly: a poorly lit studio in Bath, England, where Allison wrote her lyrics by the neon lights that ran along the walls. Given these circumstances, it’s not a total surprise that the final result, Black Cherry (2003 Mute), sounds tailor-made for the nightclub. Goldfrapp had given their sound a complete makeover, with grinding synths taking the place of Felt Mountain’s spaghetti western strings. Allison Goldfrapp herself was channeling the sex appeal that she’d apparently always possessed but kept hidden on the group’s debut.
Critical responses were varied. There were plenty of publications that praised the group’s new direction, whether they saw it as an effective genre exercise or a complete reinvention of electro pop. In fact, Goldfrapp drew few criticisms for their decision to move toward this sound and away from wide-screen eeriness. The criticisms that the album did attract were based on the material itself, which some believed to be undercooked and lacking in the scope they’d come to expect after Felt Mountain. Still, the album was a success, boasting four hit singles and reaching platinum status in the UK, where it peaked at number 23 on the charts.
In August of 2005, after Goldfrapp had toured restlessly in support of Duran Duran, the duo were back with “Ooh La La,” the infectious first single off their new album Supernature (Mute). Here, the group expanded on the dance themes and glam elements of Black Cherry, but with even better results. The album debuted at number two in the UK, went platinum, and earned Goldfrapp two Grammy nominations. By 2008, Goldfrapp had circled back to a quieter sound with Seventh Tree (Mute), although the new recordings had little in common with Felt Mountain. The songs were gentle, simple, and bright. Acoustic guitars were prominently featured, and the band seemed to be striving for more radio-friendly pop music. Once again, the group gambled and won, as Seventh Tree debuted at number two in the UK and broke the top 50 in the US, where the lush first single “A&E” reached number one on the Hot Dance Singles chart. In 2010 they realeased their next, and latest, record entiled Head First.