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Eclectic change of course

English duo Goldfrapp follows its pastoral debut album with the fast, frenetic dynamism of 'Black Cherry.'

September 28, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

In an era when fame is increasingly flash in the pan, many artists would hesitate to tamper with a successful formula, especially if that formula led to a hit record the first time out.

Not Alison Goldfrapp, the otherworldly singer in the critically acclaimed English duo that bears her last name.

Three years ago, the duo had a global hit with the sweepingly pastoral and cinematically lush debut album "Felt Mountain."

Now it's followed that triumph with "Black Cherry," a throbbing ode to glam rock, cabaret and disco.

Laced with electronics, both records pull from the same grab bag of European influences -- the dreaminess of Salvador Dali, the yodeling of the Swiss countryside, the oom-pa-pa camp of a German beer garden, the sweeping spaghetti western strings of Ennio Morricone.

But where "Felt Mountain" was amorphous and sultry, "Black Cherry" is rhythmic, fast, frenetic.

If "Felt Mountain" was a leisurely stroll in the country, "Black Cherry" is a dance on dark city streets.

"I would have just died if I thought I had to make another 'Felt Mountain,' " says Goldfrapp, who headlines the Henry Fonda Theatre on Oct. 8. "It's just one element of what we do and what we're about. I like very slow and moody things, and I like very up things that are much more rhythmic."

Buoyed by kudos in such magazines as Rolling Stone and Spin, the duo undertook a 16-country, 18-month tour after the release of its debut record. Such an extended tour has burned out many an artist, but it was an especially long time for Goldfrapp, which had only nine songs to its credit.

"Touring those songs, even though I loved them, I found it very claustrophobic after a while," says the 37-year-old singer. " 'Felt Mountain' was a short album, and so therefore I felt it wasn't everything that we do. It just wasn't enough. We wanted to introduce more rhythm."

Neither Goldfrapp nor songwriting partner Will Gregory had any definitive plan when they stepped into the studio last year, just a shared interest in an extraordinarily broad range of music from classical and electronic to glam and disco. The result was songs such as the stomping, Gary Glitter-esque "Strict Machine" and a space-age tribute to Donna Summer called "Train," as well as a handful of less beat-heavy and more classically influenced tracks that would have been at home on the duo's debut.

Image and sound

All of Goldfrapp's music contains layers of complexity and references that extend beyond music to film and art. There are touches of Hitchcock strings and Shirley Bassey vocals, as well as dreamy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that take their cues from the Surrealist movement of the '20s and '30s.

"Image and sound have always been part of the same thing for me," she says. "But I suppose I like the accessibility of music. It's much more immediate emotionally, I think. It's very instinctive. You don't have to have any kind of connection or knowledge."

Her influences, she says, are "the product of being exposed to a sort of general European culture" growing up. They also are the result of a somewhat eccentric childhood.

Born and raised in the small English town of Alton, Goldfrapp was the youngest of six children born over 20-plus years. Her mother was a nurse who often brought home patients to live with her family. Her father was a poet, painter and Buddhist who taught his children to respect nature by taking them to the countryside to tune into their surroundings.

She learned to sing at age 9, with the help of a local nun.

"I'm dyslexic and pretty [bad] at anything academic, so I went to a convent for a bit when I was little and there I discovered singing and music," she says. "That was a fantastic outlet for me, because I suddenly discovered this thing where I could say what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I felt normal when everything else I kind of struggled with."

From that point forward, Goldfrapp knew she wanted to be a singer, but it wasn't until her early 20s that she had the opportunity, first with a Belgian contemporary dance troupe, next as a vocalist on Orbital's 1994 record "Snivilisation" and, one year later, on Tricky's trip-hop classic "Maxinquaye."

A few years later, she met bandmate Gregory through a mutual friend who had given him an early version of "Human," a song that later would appear on "Felt Mountain." In 1999 they signed with Mute Records, which sold 500,000 copies of the record worldwide.

Whether the vampy dynamism of "Black Cherry" will fare as well remains to be seen, but if critical acclaim is any indication, it's on track for similar success.

"I've always felt very much that it's about doing whatever you want to do, not about sticking to a formula," Goldfrapp says. "It's about being any sound, using any means to kind of say what you want to say."



Who: Goldfrapp

When: Wednesday, Oct. 8, 8 p.m.

Where: Henry Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Price: $15-$17

Contact: (323) 464-0808

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