Because it’s inevitable that I’ll eventually be asked to mastermind the soundtrack of a future James Bond film, I’ve been keeping a small list of artists who have, criminally, never been asked to provide a Bond theme. First on the list is Bryan Ferry, of course, because he’s the oldest, although I see where he just released a new album so it’s not as though he’s slowing down. Then there’s Portishead, whose second album in particular could just as easily have been titled Bond Themes To Slit Your Wrists By rather than the more modest Portishead. And then there’s Goldfrapp.
I don’t recall where I first encountered the band my girlfriend cheerfully refers to as “Goldcrapp” (so it wasn’t her, then). It was probably one of my co-workers at the time, back when we all shared our music libraries through iTunes; that’s also how I came to give Of Montreal a second chance (see Also). I was enchanted enough to check out the website for Supernature, which was basically the album cover come to life. I couldn’t not want to hear what that music sounded like, and I wasn’t disappointed.
See, every Goldfrapp album is a little different. The debut, Felt Mountain, is smoky, noirish, atmospheric, almost ambient in spots, probably the most obvious reason why I think of spy movies when I think of Goldfrapp. It happens to contain what’s probably my favorite song of theirs, “Utopia,” which sounds like a remake of Metropolis with a script by Neuromancer-era William Gibson.
Then there’s Black Cherry, which cranks the volume up from 3 to 8, layers in the beats, moves into dance territory. And then there’s Supernature, which perfects this approach and adds a finely crafted glam sheen that makes the whole package immediately irresistible. Which is why I couldn’t resist it.
“Ooh La La” starts the album off with a meaningless but authoritative statement of intent, a reincarnation of Siouxsie’s “Peek-a-Boo” as a celebration of sexuality rather than a jeremiad against sex work. “Lovely 2 C U” is similarly powerful but more forgettable, and so it’s the third track, “Ride a White Horse,” that really hooks.
The album coasts a bit after that, gliding through some Felt Mountain-isms like “You Never Know” and “Let It Take You” before stretching a bit with “Fly Me Away” and then pounding the floor again with “Slide In.” The next highlight for me comes with “Koko,” which makes the prediction “Soon be nothing of this world / Soon be nothing” sound like paradise rather than inferno. “Satin Chic” is the only track that’s capable of hitting the heights of “Ride a White Horse,” and it does so with a light cabaret touch and lyrics that suggest far more than meets the eye:
Dressed up lizard green
Lip gloss bold as blood
You got em linin’ up
He’s my man
Yeah he’s my man
You don’t understand
After that you need “Time Out From the World,” the sweet pop devotion “Number 1,” and then it’s a glittering ride out on the ecstatic bonus track “Beautiful” if you have the U.S. release.
Having delivered what amounted to their OK Computer — the flawless extension of their logic to its zenith and therefore its conclusion — Goldfrapp had to switch gears again. Like Kid A, Seventh Tree is something of a 180, swapping out the electronic for the acoustic, the loud and glamorous for the soft and shy, cybernetic cabaret for pastoral Wicker Man bacchanals. It’s not bad, but it’s vaguer, lacking any of the drive of Black Cherry or Supernature and lacking the focus of Felt Mountain. It’s pleasant, and made for a seriously weird concert in which Alison Goldfrapp looked a little embarrassed at the aesthetic they’d chosen for the tour, but even now I have trouble remembering how almost all of the songs go.
Head First, their tribute to the 80s in the style of Laura Branigan, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benatar et al., isn’t much more memorable, with lead single “Rocket” pretty much the only thing that really works. Recently they released Tales of Us, going back to quiet mode and eliding pretty much anything that gave them their identity apart from Goldfrapp’s voice (though I did appreciate that they named the first single after me). The whole pattern is almost identical to that of Radiohead, actually — three great albums instead of one terrible one and two great ones, followed by three albums I didn’t really connect with. So now we’re just waiting on that seventh album to be like In Rainbows and back to great again.
So which Goldfrapp song is the Bond theme? Take your pick. You could do worse than “Lovely Head”:
Of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins
I’d first heard Of Montreal at the college radio station on an unbearably twee and irritating album called The Gay Parade. I would never have given them a second thought if my friend and co-worker hadn’t turned me on to this album, on which they seem to have first discovered not being terrible. In fact it’s pretty fantastic, with several utter classics in my book — “I Was Never Young,” “So Begins Our Alabee,” “The Party’s Crashing Us,” and “The Repudiated Immortals” — and a bunch of other catchy-ass tunes with atrocious titles. The excellent first track, “Requiem for O.M.M.2,” took on a little unwanted extra significance when my girlfriend and I unexpectedly lost a friend of ours; his death and its aftermath involved the most bizarre story I won’t be telling in these pages.
Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better
I liked the first Franz Ferdinand album a lot, but I think I like this one so much better. The occasional youthful clunkiness of the first album isn’t in evidence here, with only “This Boy” and “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” really failing to land on their feet. “The Fallen,” “Do You Want To,” “Evil and a Heathen,” and “I’m Your Villain” are the strongest tracks, along with the lovely “Fade Together” and my personal favorite (for its guitar riffs) “What You Meant.” I haven’t really liked anything they’ve done as much since.
Kate Bush, Aerial
We all pretty much thought Kate Bush had put away the Fairlight synthesizer and retired, or at least I did. Who knew she’d come back with a double album — one disc songs, the other disc a suite a la Hounds of Love? Doctor Who coming back in the same year wasn’t a bigger shock. Is it up there with her best work? Well, I don’t think so; in fact, the first three tracks (“King of the Mountain,” “Pi,” and “Bertie”) are actually verging on embarrassing to listen to. But “Joanni” is at least the third best song ever written about Joan of Arc; parts of the “Sky of Honey” suite are utterly lovely, and “A Coral Room” is one of the most moving and heartbreaking things she’s ever done. The album is far from my favorite, but it’s a miracle that it even exists at all.
- Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
- Tori Amos, The Beekeeper
- Morrissey, Live at Earls Court
- Fischerspooner, Odyssey
- Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm
- Robyn, Robyn
- Rob Dickinson, Fresh Wine for the Horses
- Metric, Live It Out