What does it sound like?:
When Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory got together to create music, it was inevitable that their first album would have a creepy, cinematic atmosphere. After all, strange things happen after dark in Wessex and Will had already made a decent living crafting soundtracks. Factor in Alison’s sensual, breathy vocals and Felt Mountain, released in 2000, made many a critic’s knees tremble. Sales, however, were modest, the album just about breaking into the UK top sixty.
There was an adjustment in approach for the follow up, Black Cherry. In addition to the graceful mix of sustained chords, sweeping strings, weightless ballads, folk, cabaret, electronica and film noir, Goldfrapp added cheesy synths, infectious hooks and stomping beats, while cranking up the sex quotient in the lyrics. The result felt a little schizophrenic. Will had a new toy, a flute sound he deployed picking out a gentle tune in no less than three of the quieter songs. The new style works best on Strict Machine, co-written with Nick Batt, a bass heavy track, powered by a storming Glitter Band beat, buzzing with a frisson of naughtiness. It was the second single off Black Cherry, establishing them as a Dance Act (losing out in that category at the Brit Awards to Basement Jaxx) and providing their break-through in the US where broadcasters failed to spot the references to a vibrator.
Back in 2003, Electroclash, a short-lived throwback to glam rock and eighties electronic music, had just passed its peak. Other artists were also playing the synthesised sex kitten. Kylie and Britney released Body Language and In The Zone respectively, both with similar production values and featuring seductive lead singles, Slow and Toxic respectively. Even The Cheeky Girls’ The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) possessed a certain coquettish charm. Felt Mountain wasn’t exactly unique, sharing its roots with chilled Trip Hop, but it did sound different enough to be ground-breaking. However, tracks like Train, Twist and Tiptoe gave the impression that Black Cherry was following a trend.
Shorn of that context in 2019, rereleased for the first time on vinyl, and being cognisant of their later history, Black Cherry has improved considerably. Yes, there could be more bass on most of the dance numbers and the sexiness is sometimes cloying (compare the orgasmic yelps on Twist with the hushed gasps in Lovely Head from the debut, for example) but the choruses are exhilarating, the melodies are never less than lovely, often ethereally beautiful, and Alison’s vocals are sinfully exquisite, even if her diction deliberately smudges some key words. After all this time, the combination of languid ballads and kitschy floor-fillers actually works, with every track counting, pulling the listener to the dance floor with one hand and repelling with weirdness with the other, strange and intoxicating.
Goldfrapp went on to further develop the style and sound of Black Cherry for their next album, Supernature, which would make them stars in America and give them the freedom to experiment as they wished on albums like Seventh Tree and Tales Of Us. Here, in Black Cherry, is where their bank account began to swell. It’s well worth a revisit.
What does it all *mean*?
The era of CD is over. There are currently a lot of reissues from the nineties and noughties of albums never before released on vinyl. Alison looks a tad uncomfortable on the cover cavorting with a variety of animal heads but, at twelve inches square, it’s a pleasure to behold.
Goes well with…
An expanding vinyl collection.
27th September 2019
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