mute records | lp/c/cd/i stumm320 | 22/03/2010
Head First finds the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory abandoning not only the hippy etherialism of last album Seventh Tree but also the confrontational, over-sexed electronica – in the vein of, say, Peaches and Client – in favour of a pure pop sound. At first you’d think that this is intended to permit Goldfrapp to drop neatly into the current trend for female-fronted synth pop acts a la La Roux, Little Boots, who are intent on sweeping up the vast electronica vistas of the Eighties and claiming them as their own; but this is released on Mute, which has been producing quality, credible and enduring electronic music since before the Eighties were even born. Specifically, I’d suggest the influence of Vince Clarke during his late Eighties analogue renaissance would be a principal marker for the noises offered up on Head First.
This is synth pop at its shimmering, shiniest best. I’ve not listened to an electronic pop record for many years (probably since Erasure‘s last) that’s had me so captivated from the opening seconds. In Head First‘s case, that opener is the sublime first single ‘Rocket’ and is quickly followed by ‘Believer’, which starts with minimal pulsing beats before snapping into a huge sing-along chorus the likes of which Goldfrapp seem set on nurturing across most of Head First.
The second single, ‘Alive’ is a ballsy, disco-y track (in the vein of, say, Stock Aitken and Waterman’s take on the genre with Big Fun perhaps) which neatly encapsulates the vibe of Scissor Sisters. ‘Dreaming’ is probably my personal favourite song here – beginning with pulsing synths and breathy words that I can barely decipher, it’s the pleasantly uplifting chorus which provides the core emotional hook of the track. Title track ‘Head First’ sounded to me like an Abba cover with its simple piano lines and grandeur-filled bridge, and I wasn’t surprised to see journalists reviewing the album citing the same similarity. It’s a beautiful love song that the Andersson-Ulvaeus could feasibly claim as being descended from one of their own.
‘Hunt’ is less pop and more like something that the Goldfrapp / Gregory duo may have delivered up on Felt Mountain. The electronics sound submerged and minimal and Goldfrapp’s vocal reminds of how broad her sonic range can be. ‘Hunt’ shares some similarities with the only dip across the whole album, closing track ‘Voice Thing’, which, as its name suggests features Goldfrapp’s voice (wordlessly singing as she did on the Orbital records from years gone by) as a textural instrument. It’s clever, certainly, but a bit low-key compared to the rest of the album. ‘Shiny And Warm’ – a fast-paced and fairly minimal piece – is a song I’m not especially keen on, but it’s growing on me gradually. ‘I Wanna Life’, however, with a few more Abba overtones and a massive dose of Fame-esque optimistic cheeriness is much better.
Overall, this is a brilliant album, setting the duo off on an exciting new course. A couple of below par tracks aside, this really is essential listening for anyone looking for authentic electronic pop music from this consistently inventive pairing.
A cassette version of Head First was released by Mute for Record Store Day 2010.
5. Head First
7. Shiny And Warm
8. I Wanna Life
First posted 2010; re-edited 2015
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence