Goldfrapp stepped off the dancefloor with The Seventh Tree’s folky reveries, but the duo couldn’t stay away for long.
Head First dives into luscious, eminently danceable synth pop that's almost as far removed from the sleek shuffle beats of Black Cherry and Supernature as their previous album was.
Instead, they explore the uber-glossy productions, staccato melodies, and dramatic key shifts that were the hallmarks of anthems that some might not want to admit they liked decades later.
The influence of Giorgio Moroder and Italo-disco in general can be heard throughout Head First, but ABBA and especially Xanadu-era Olivia Newton-John are even more prominent (the cover of “Physical” that appeared between Felt Mountain and Black Cherry feels more prescient with each album Goldfrapp releases).
The pair makes more of these sounds than just pastiche, although the finesse with which they re-create this distinctive sound will give listeners serious déjà vu.
Even the album’s length and structure feel retro: Head First is a svelte nine songs long, with the singles on its A-side and ballads on the B-side.
And the singles -- particularly the first three -- are some of Goldfrapp’s most irresistible songs yet: “Rocket”’s driving minor-key verses and huge, shimmering choruses tap into the brain’s pleasure center as efficiently as possible; “Believer” sounds instantly familiar, but not tired or obvious; and “Alive” channels ABBA with percolating guitars, warm keyboards and synths that sparkle like a shower of glitter.
These songs have a sugar rush-immediacy that is new to Goldfrapp’s music, even if it nods to a golden age of pop that was unabashedly joyous.
These songs are so mainstream, they’re almost subversive; while Goldfrapp is no stranger to catchy singles, the brooding undercurrents that appeared in all of the duo's previous albums are missing.
Song titles like “I Wanna Life” hint at the big, brightly colored strokes the duo is painting with this time, and the title track’s rainbow brightness and romantic ideals are miles away from the dark sensuality of their earlier work -- only “Shiny and Warm,” which plays like a revamped “Satin Chic,” has any trace of that vibe.
Even Head First’s moody songs aren’t as moody as before, though “Hunt” has a hazy, late-night glamour to it.
As almost Goldfrapp album shows, the duo is unafraid of abandoning sounds that worked for them in favor of something else.
Coupled with The Seventh Tree, this album proves that Goldfrapp’s skill at adopting and fully embodying different styles is what makes them distinctive, not necessarily one signature sound.
If the album seems somewhat slight, it’s purposefully so: Head First is a love letter to the frothy, fleeting, but very vital joys of pop music.