The Singles begins at the peak of Goldfrapp’s popularity, with “Ooh La La” and “Number 1,” the singles from 2006’s Supernature. It’s a killer opening act, though it also speaks to the confidence that Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have in their lesser-known material. Even if they’d gone the standard route of arranging these singles in chronological order, the disc would’ve naturally built to those guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Instead, Goldfrapp presents their best-loved dance singles (“Strict Machine” and “Utopia” follow in short order) as a familiar point of entry into a much more expansive sonic world. By the time the album closes with two newly written songs, both gorgeous, gauzy servings of dream pop, Goldfrapp’s mid-decade conquest of the club charts almost seems accidental, a single destination on the duo’s intergalactic voyage.
Indeed, some of the decisions made in arranging The Singles only make sense once you acknowledge that Goldfrapp is trying to put their phenomenal run of dance singles in a slightly wider perspective. Why else pick the bizarre, “Penny Lane”-as-performed-by-Munchkins pop number “Happiness” to represent Seventh Tree and not the far more successful (and frankly more listenable) “Caravan Girl”? Or leave Black Cherry‘s “Twist” out altogether? Nearly all compilations invite these sorts of objections, but in this case there appears to be a guiding logic—namely, to present the full breadth of Goldfrapp’s music using only singles. And that probably has to do with Goldfrapp and Gregory’s future as much as their past. Many fans and critics balked at the mellow freak-folk of Seventh Tree and the portions of Head First that drifted into ambient-pop territory; Head First‘s dance tracks are about the only recent Goldfrapp songs that have gone over well, which suggests that Goldfrapp and their fans aren’t on the same page about what the next Goldfrapp album should sound like.
The Singles, then, is a terrific showcase for Goldfrapp’s versatility, though on the crucial point of whether or not their midtempo and ambient numbers are as essential as their dance hits, it’s not entirely convincing. “Lovely Head” comes early enough in the album to remind us that Goldfrapp and Gregory were psych-pop pioneers before they ruled dance floors, and it remains one of the most captivating and otherworldly entries in their catalogue. But “Black Cherry” and “Believer” feel limp as transitions into the two new songs; written nearly a decade apart, they both aim for hypnotic repetition, but end up wearing out their hooks. In their glorious glam-dance hybrids, Goldfrapp can delay satisfaction, teasing with driving beats and guitar solos to make their melodies more effective. Unmoored from a strong beat, however, the compositions often billow out and sag.
The Singles doesn’t make much of a case for the polarizing Seventh Tree either. Other than “Happiness,” it’s only represented by “A&E,” a pretty, MOR-leaning ballad that won’t prompt any serious reevaluation of Seventh Tree‘s daring leftfield folk. In downplaying their most pastoral collection of songs, Goldfrapp initially appear to concede that they lost some of their fire when they moved away from dance music, but they’re actually setting themselves up for a minor triumph with the two new songs. “Yellow Halo,” which builds its dreamy pop upward from sheets of synthesizers, is the most enchanting of the two, but “Melancholy Sky” is at least as strong as anything from Head First. It may have taken Goldfrapp a few tries, but evidently they did not give up on finding a path between their electro-pop style and their more abstract inclinations, and these two songs make it pretty clear that they were right to keep working at it. Because it ends in such lavish, languid territory, The Singles as a whole feels like a more complete and satisfying journey than either of Goldfrapp’s last two albums, progressing confidently from crushing guitar-driven boogie to weightless space pop, like a Sunday spent staring at neon clouds after a Saturday night roller skating on the rings of Saturn.