One of those Mondays when I needed coaxing out of the house today, rather than one of those Sepultura Mondays. My weapon of choice this morning? Goldfrapp Felt Mountain, it did the job beautifully too. Now as I may have hinted at previously I have/had a major pop-crush on Alison Goldfrapp the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since those heady Kerrang! days of Lisa Dominique, Leigh Matty and Lita Ford; it just wasn’t seemly in a man in his thirties, or maybe that was the whole point.
I bought Mrs 1537 Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry LP in 2003, after reading a couple of interesting articles and we both became obsessed, for mildly differing reasons, I’d rate it in my Top 20 fave LPs ever and I bought Felt Mountain fairly quickly afterwards. With the exception of a couple of the more immediate tracks I didn’t really get it though, Black Cherry‘s knowing raunch and slinky beats had been replaced by atmosphere and mood a bit redolent of Portishead, I was disappointed. If I’d bought Felt Mountain when it came out (2000) I don’t think I’d have bought Black Cherry. Funnily enough, I think I’m only really getting Felt Mountain now.
Basically a duo with hired-in extra bolt-on bits when necessary, Goldfrapp is Will Gregory, keyboard and compositional genius and Alison Goldfrapp (sighs) extraordinary vocals and some keys. But there are a whole galaxy of extra musos lurking hereabouts, the likes of John Parish and Adrian Utley (of Portishead fame) being the most prominent.
Felt Mountain is your basic off-the shelf European spy movie soundtrack, with touches of Cabaret*, Alpine eugenics, phallic and yonic** symbols on the LP covers, Shirley Bassey and way too much theremin abuse; ten a penny, I know. If you don’t know the LP use the opener ‘Lovely head’ as a taster, if you like this, you’ll like Felt Mountain. It sounds very much like the theme song from a film far too cool for you ever to see, theremin and treated vocals soar and swoop like guitar solos between the subdued verses, and there’s whistling too! I’m a big fan of whistling in songs – albeit under strictly supervised conditions. The lyrics, never very literal in early Goldfrapp songs, point towards unrequited love and obsession, with an unspoken air of something less noble lurking beneath, or maybe that’s just me projecting my inner seediness on an innocent track.
Funnily enough I never had any time at all for the second track, ‘Paper bag’ until today and believe it, or not I never noticed that the opening line was ‘No time to fuck / But you like the rush’, before today either. Given how much I love swearing – how the hell did I miss this? It’s a delicate thing, breathy, almost insubstantial yet with an edge of bitterness and sarcasm leavened by gentle string accompaniment. I love the twisting, dramatic, urgent mambo of the third track ‘Human’ too (Are you human / Or are you a dud?) too.
It all gets a little too tasteful for my, umm, tastes then with ‘Pilots’ and ‘Deer Stop’, the latter does feature some interestingly over-treated vocals, using the sound of the voice more as another instrument than as a means of conveying words. Nothing here is bad at all, but ‘Oompa Radar’ is a track to approach with a certain amount of caution, it sounds rather like how I’d imagine losing your mind on LSD in Bavaria at an under water fairground would – come on we’ve all been there! Once a year or so for this song is fine – Note to any future hostage negotiators/US Military ever having to rock someone out of the Vatican embassy Noriega-style (Operation Nifty Package), then an hour of ‘Oompa Radar’ would do the trick.
Felt Mountain then comes roaring back with possibly my favourite ever Goldfrapp track, ‘Utopia’. It really is 4:18 of genius beyond belief, from a gentle beginning to a rip-roaring Bond-theme finale, it is flawless. And that’s the whole point, the song is about and embodies a certain type of pristine alpine perfection, a sterile, umm, utopia the equivalent of those deliberately perfect landscapes on the LP cover/inner – the vocal refrain of ‘fascist baby’ caps the point. Alison Goldfrapp’s singing on this track is amazing, it is throughout Felt Mountain, but particularly so here, the last time I saw Goldfrapp live they opened with ‘Utopia’ and blew the roof off, sedately. BEST OF ALL though, it has spoken bits in too!! My cup truly runneth over.
Closing track ‘Horse Tears’ does invite a Portishead comparison again, with it being the type of post-millennial torch song, with an almost Shirley Bassey-esque^ vocal, and backing which is provided by a wheezy organ and treated vocals which blend into the keyboard sounds. The lyrics are obtuse again,
Night has fallen
Mute and cold
My horse is crying
Which should make me scoff at the pretentiousness of it all, but I’m too much under their spell and too much in the moment.
I own more Goldfrapp 12″s and remix CD’s than pretty much any artist, I bought two 12″s from Felt Mountain, although there are a couple others out there I never quite got around to. First up is Human, with it’s striking cover art from the brilliantly sinister, Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp photography and video collaboration, Country Girls. For your money you get the single version (shorter?) of ‘Human’, together with the Calexico instrumental version – yup a brilliant cover version by everybody’s favourite Tex-Mex musical magpies, together with the somewhat brutalist, punishing ‘Human (Massey’s Neanderthal Mix)’.
The Utopia Remixes 12″, with boring plain cover has ‘Utopia (DNA Mix)’ and ‘Utopia (Plaid Mix)’. You know my views on remixes by now^^, the former is a dancier version, fine but the remix robs it of the whole medium-as-message point of the song, although you get bonus points for knowing that half of DNA, Nick Batt is Goldfrapp’s go to guy for beats. The Plaid mix, whilst initially interesting just speeds it up and makes it go all, umm, plinky-plonky-plinky. I appreciate that the only reason you tune in is for this type of incisive music criticism. Not essential.
*as in the musical/film based on the Christopher Isherwood, not on plate-spinners from Birmingham, bargain basement crooners with Casio organ accompaniment and dogs who can bark the answers to sums.
**the female equivalent of a phallic symbol. True story.
^surely the only time in my whole life I will type that.
^^why? usually being the main one. Although there are some great remixes of later Goldfrapp tunes out there, which I’ll bore you about later.