Goldfrapp’s run of strong albums finally came to an abrupt halt with 2010’s disappointing ‘Head First’. As they often do, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp referenced the 80’s for their inspiration but on this occasion it was in a largely superficial way, with too many of songs best served as soundtracks for keep-fit routines. That’s keep fit routines, 1980’s style of course. ‘Tales Of Us’ attempts to correct the aberration with an introspective approach that sees them return to the atmospheric, filmic quality of their debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
The good news is that all the trashy suggestions of the last album will become a distant memory as soon as one hears the opener ‘Jo’, where Gregory assembles a familiar orchestral backing and Goldfrapp herself whispers and swoons her way through this elegant, understated opener. It’s like being in 2000 all over again. Similar things happen on ‘Annabel’ and ‘Ulla’, everything tastefully arranged, subtle strings here and there but the songs never break into anything stirring. Likewise, ‘Alvar’ promises much with its Indian guitar figure but fails to develop from his intriguing origins.
However, there are a few excellent moments which suggest Goldfrapp are back on track. For ‘Drew’ the strings become exciting and vital, the kind of Bond theme in waiting which Goldfrapp made a habit of at the beginning of their career. Meanwhile, the wistful, enigmatic couplet of ‘Stranger’ and ‘Laurel’ are destined to accompany tragic French romance. A notable exception to the somewhat refined nature of the record occurs right in the middle, courtesy of ‘Thea’. The song is dramatic and really stands out with its shuddering rhythms and stormy weather ambience; the effect is rather like the wonderful surprise of hearing Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ on her otherwise fair to middling ‘Homogenic’ album.
Everything on ‘Tales Of Us’ is lush and sumptuously arranged and yet even though Goldfrapp have returned to what they do best, somehow the songs don’t lodge themselves into the brain as easily as their earlier records. The result is an admittedly classy and polished record but demanding listeners will be expecting a much deeper listening experience.