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Buy one of the following Goldfrapp CDs from amazon.com:

'Felt Mountain' (2000)

'Black Cherry' (2003)

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Cherry Bomb: Alison Goldfrapp should leave the oral pleasure to Khia.

Back Track

With 'Black Cherry,' electropop artists Goldfrapp fiddle with a successful formula, posing a dilemma for one fan

By Michael Alan Goldberg

AH, THAT ages-old dilemma: Do you like it when your favorite band changes its musical style, engaging you with new twists on its creative vision, or do you prefer that it stay the course, serving up the same kinds of sounds that made you love it so much in the first place?

That's the quandary if you fell for Goldfrapp's 2000 debut, Felt Mountain. Singer/keyboardist Alison Goldfrapp and composer Will Gregory released a sophisticated stunner that merged the suave, Ennio Morricone/John Barry '60s with modern-yet-restrained electronics. The album's sweeping, chilled-out vibe--and Goldfrapp's torchlike vocals--suggested a breathier Björk on sedatives, or fellow Britons Portishead on holiday in the sun-drenched isle of Capri rather than stuck in damp, dreary southwestern England. Still, the album possessed a character and acumen all its own.

But if Felt Mountain was the aural equivalent of an evening spent reclining in a posh nightclub's velvet sofas and sipping expensive cocktails, Goldfrapp's new release, Black Cherry, is like stepping drowsily out of said club to find a coked-up, curb-hopping Yellow Cab bearing down on you at full speed. That adrenaline jolt is what feeds much of the duo's sophomore album, a surprisingly aggressive and openly decadent affair that might have fans initially wondering if there was some kind of mix-up at the CD-pressing plant.

Forget about a "transition song" to kick things off--the twosome immediately announces its new intentions via the synthesizer bleats and icy electrobeats of the opener, "Crystalline Green." That number segues into "Train," an even grainier technopop workout. And who's this singer? This can't possibly be the same chanteuse with the sultry, dramatically nuanced voice, can it?

In name only, it would seem. Goldfrapp apparently ditched the subtleties to adopt something of a disco-diva persona with her processed vocals and ultracocksure delivery. It's not really until the title track, three songs in, that we get a glimpse of the Goldfrapp of old, her sweet melodies lifting the breezy ballad to angelic heights. And there are sporadic concessions to the past in "Deep Honey," "Forever" and the especially Air-y "Hairy Trees," even though those pretty and ruminative tracks are synthetic in their constructs.

More often, however, it's the devil fighting for domination, as in "Tiptoe," where the song's gorgeous core, replete with soaring strings and vocals, locks horns with its buzzy, Pong-inspired melodic shell and lyrical naughtiness ("You feel good / You feel right / You're so good," etc.). That's nothing compared to "Twist," the ode to cunnilingus that rears its head a few songs later. It's not Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)," but it's still jarring to hear our Miss Goldfrapp coo, "Put your dirty angel face / Between my legs and knicker lace ... kiss me like you like me / Twist it round again and again," then feign orgasm over the sleazy, grinding Eurobeat.

"Twist" establishes Black Cherry as a departure, but once the shock wears off, is it, like its predecessor, something special? In the pair's obvious quest to subvert expectations for Felt Mountain Part 2, they've ended up joining a club of similar electroclash-minded acts offering slight variations on the same beats, New Wave atmospherics and sexually charged themes.

In a way it's not unlike teenagers rebelling against the wishes of their parents and asserting their individuality by getting dyed, pierced and tattooed, only to end up donning the uniform of yet another crowd. In doing so, they sacrifice some of their treasured quirks and singular strengths; in the band's case, it's primarily Goldfrapp's voice--which never really gets the chance to shine--and the pair's knack for skewing musical forms and genres into something fresh and compelling.

The legacy of Felt Mountain isn't only its memorable songs but its unique vision, a quality frustratingly lacking in Black Cherry. Fans hoping Goldfrapp would take them down innovative new paths may be disappointed; fans hoping to get another Felt Mountain almost certainly will be disappointed. And no matter how you cut it, that's a serious dilemma.


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From the May 1-7, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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