upernature is not a great album, but it’s somewhat better than you’d expect judging from the fact that the polarising first single “Ooh La La” —their first top 10 hit through momentum rather than merit—was ostensibly one of the strongest songs on offer. Fortunately it isn’t, and as an album, it’s slightly better than the kneejerk brickbats would have you believe.
The problem is that between straddling (figuratively and literally) Portishead and a bit of Broadcast, and getting the attention Ladytron never did through sheer force of personality, Goldfrapp usually had the tunes to back up the voice. Here, they often float without point, and drag as a result.
So the form of vaguely electroclash pop delivered with frighteningly robotic efficiency has been mastered, but the content itself is the problem. Where the shock of hearing a group you’d pigeonholed as post-trip-hop merchants tackle danceable pop so brazenly worked in favour of Black Cherry, here, interpolating glam and electroclash—which was certainly not an unthinkable prospect before this album—in such an unremarkable way means that what’s missing in surprise simply isn’t made up elsewhere.
If “Ooh La La” barely bothered with verses, a major problem on Supernature is that there aren’t very many choruses. “U Never Know” almost fuses the first two albums into something tantalising but despite an impeccable arrangement, it sputters out without much of an impact; the lyrics “Here we go again / We’re going round” are unfortunately descriptive.
“Lovely 2 C U” may be the worst offender of sounding by-numbers, its lazy glam affectations sounding all the worse amid a chorus striking only in its complete dullness—and there aren’t any slow songs this time around to make such rote applications of a formula seem interesting by comparison.
It’s certainly not all bad news; “Fly Me Away” boasts a daft but well-delivered lyric, slinky pulses of bass underpinning a backing that’s equal parts sleek and sleaze and an almost giddy atmosphere of woozy synths. “No. 1” would have improved either of Fischerspooner’s albums by its presence—and its complete lack of guile, for a group whose singer inspires so much hatred for her aloof diva-isms, is refreshing and effective.
Having accepted that without the shock of the new—post-trip-hop merchants go dance—your opinion of what you perceive as Alison Goldfrapp’s schtick is probably where the album sinks or swims. ”Ride On A White Horse” may be guilty of playing exactly to the duo’s perceived strengths/weaknesses (depending on your viewpoint), but the combination of a decently danceable groove and some nicely arch vocals mean it stands out as memorable after it’s finished, and as such mark it out as somewhat unique on the album.
The problem may be that since we’ve heard the psycho-futuristic sex kitten role-play enough times to either take or leave individual songs on their own merits. “Slide In” is a case in point; sexual allusions, a coy delivery to match, but a distinct lack of excitement or hook. Nothing here is outright bad, and if the idea of an album that consists almost entirely of songs that are faster than, say, “Lovely Head” but slower than “Twist” sounds good, you’ll likely appreciate the dense soundscapes being applied to the traditionally minimalist electroclash template. Pretty it is, but exciting it isn’t.
In the end, Goldfrapp’s massive influence on chart pop in the last two years may be their undoing. With their sound popping up everywhere you turn your ears, a mediocre album from them is hard to justify. Nonetheless, it’ll spawn a few more decent-sized singles and hopefully sell well enough for them to get it right next time and hit both the commercial and the artistic jackpot.