It is the nature of parties to end. The keg gets tapped, the speakers bust, the drugs run out, the girlfriend calls, the cops show up, the market crashes—it doesn't matter how. Sooner or later, the festivities come to a close. And usually, at least a few revelers are left to survey the wreckage and pick up the pieces in the cold light of day. If they're lucky, either it was worth remembering or they can't remember a thing.
For their last two action-packed records, English pop duo Goldfrapp have made a damn convincing argument against this truism. Varied in pace though they were, Black Cherry and Supernature nevertheless gave the impression that Planet Goldfrapp was a coke-encrusted mirrorball exclusively populated by super-pneumatic pleasurebots. Synthesizers were their weapons, and they were quick on the draw. If the Wachowskis were to imagine a frontwoman, Alison Goldfrapp during this era would come close—feline, sadistic, possibly wearing latex underpants. Goldfrapp's big tunes did turns on catwalks, played in mega-clubs, and were cast in Coke commercials. It was glorious.
Of course, it had to end. And so we're left with Seventh Tree, a slightly inscrutable, gauzy comedown record. Some club kids are gonna be bummed. Frankly, though, few parties leave such gorgeous baubles in their wake.
Ignoring, for a moment, this record's relationship to Goldfrapp's previous work, it's still a weird little number. Some songs, like the leadoff track "Clowns," traffic in 21st-century pastoralism by secreting bird sounds and other natural wonders at the edge of the mix. Others, like "Little Bird," center on grooveless yet hypnotic synth riffs or dive into spacy psychedelia. And still others, like the subtly epic first single, "A&E," and the slightly sappy, Beatlesesque "Happiness," affect a classicist, surprisingly conservative approach to pop. Goldfrapp binds these disparate elements together thematically by emphasizing lush, naturalistic arrangements in which acoustic guitar and piano figure prominently. Harpsichord makes an appearance. Though understated balladry is the predominant songwriting mode, production techniques like the shuddering, asymmetrical feedback hum undergirding the nearly perfect closer "Monster Love" serve as reminders that this is the same group that made "Strict Machine." They're just about the only thing that does.
Hyperbolic nostalgia aside, it's worth acknowledging that Goldfrapp has made plenty of dreamy, seductive pop songs before, so this record doesn't so much represent a new direction as it does a return to past themes. After all, Felt Mountain, their debut, featured a lot of woozy sighs lent majestic orchestral structure too. Indeed, aside from the wispy, ethereal, often impenetrable vocal approach Alison Goldfrapp takes here (which is probably these songs' least successful aspect, for what it's worth), Seventh Tree is most compelling for the way in which the band's regained austerity and naturalism contrasts with their more recent hedonism. Standout "Some People" features the lyric "When the glitter's gone," which might as well be the album's subtitle. Fortunately, this hangover is sweet.