45 45s #8 Goldfrapp – A & E (Mute, 2008)

GoldfrappI’m half-tempted to call Alison Goldfrapp the thinking person’s Madonna, but that would make the Hampshire-raised, part-convent-educated singer’s musical path, with all its attendant dressing up in character, seem rather more calculated than I suspect it is (as well as being somewhat unfair on Madonna, who, whatever you think of her music and persona, has made an indelible mark not only on pop music but the world). Alison has chosen to live out a dramatized, heightened version of life through song, and – I imagine – proceeds more by instinct than design. In character, she has taken on the role of, among other things, little girl lost, femme fatale, strict mistress, and pagan priestess. Often she seems poised halfway between Weimar Republic hedonist and soft-focus ’70s romantic singer-songwriter, although her modernised versions of both of those stereotypes are more sophisticated and complicated than the past’s. Despite this sometimes bewildering array of Bowie-esque costume and character changes, it’s impossible to overlook just what a great, multifaceted voice she has. Both vulnerable and strong, breathy and clear, she can do so much with it, and it brings to life the visual aspects of her songs, whether you can see her performing them or not.

And just as she seems to be a woman of contradictions, so too Goldfrapp the duo. A pairing of opposites; of mystery, whim and caprice on the one hand and steadfastness, attention to detail and vision on the other. Very much choosing to take the back seat and let Alison glow in the spotlight, Will Gregory manages to be still more absent from Goldfrapp’s projected image than the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe. Yet his musical input is obviously key, and based on their output, you’d have to say it’s a partnership built to last. Purely speculatively, you might then quietly wonder to yourself whether it’s that longevity which in the past allowed Alison a psychological romantic freedom, assuming there’s no smoke without fire. It’s probably unwise of the music critic to step into the realms of psychological analysis, but…

‘A & E’ is at once one of Goldfrapp’s prettiest and most enigmatic creations. It feels like a ballad, and yet halfway through it picks up speed and becomes a supercharged blue, the blue of the afternoon sky on the Saturday on which it’s set. When you look at the words on screen, there’s not a lot to them. But lyrics are inhabited by their singers, and Alison invests these – ‘I’m in a backless dress on a pastel ward, the shining’ – with both mystery (she doesn’t know how she got there) and a desperate sense of melancholy, or a melancholic sense of desperation (she’s feeling badly let down by her lover). The end result is a song not quite as bleak in its assessment of the state of play as ‘Black cherry’, in which Alison’s character knows very well how the end came about, because she was the one who blew it.  ‘A & E’ is one step short of that; here there is no resolution. Lying in Accident & Emergency with your life flashing before you, before you are fixed up to go back out into it, is the perfect place to portray that purgatorial confusion.

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2 responses

  1. Lovely tune for a gloomy Monday.

    1. Glad it brightened it, Sean.

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