Music Review: Silver Eye (Goldfrapp, 2017)
Change is a beautiful and vital — if often misunderstood — aspect of an artist's creative process. No matter how subtle or major an alteration, they continue to evolve and shift thematically through time. Obviously, this is because artists are living human beings and experience personal journeys full of life, death, laughter and countless surprises. But also consider the fact that there are artists out there who dare to be different — even when solely compared to their previous work.
There are some true masters of injecting this humanity into their work via change itself as a malleable entity. Goldfrapp, comprised of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, are a prime example of this meticulous, deeply personal craft in primal action. The duo's new record, "Silver Eye", has been long-awaited by fans and critics for four excruciatingly long years, made more painful by the band's understandable tendency to vanish into the shadows of musical solace once an album era is over.
Honestly, given how sublime and dynamic "Silver Eye" is, I can more than forgive them for the wait. As always, the band refuses to return until they have something worth your time and, in that, being an admirer of the band's music is a lesson in wisdom and patience in regards to human nature. It's really quite fascinating how the relationship between the band and their fans is more like a supportive friendship that brings with it life lessons.
In fact, human nature itself is a prevalent theme throughout this svelte yet effective ten-track record. Never ones to repeat previous sounds, Alison and Will have dissected many of the atmospheres presented in their previous releases in a sort of revisitation and contemplation of their essence. Utopian electronic backdrops and ticklish plucks of mysterious instrumentation are injected from "Felt Mountain". The ragged, deliciously filthy growls and melt-your-face-off synths of "Black Cherry" are resurrected in full form — much to the thrill of many a longtime fan. "Supernature" is in fact reinvigorated through lush, swirling balladry and deep, honey-coated vocalization in the more downtempo tracks on the record, akin to the 2005 album's long-forgotten but immaculate "Let It Take You", which is easily one of their greatest tracks ever released. Still, the DNA from these projects has been twisted and transmogrified into a totally different beast altogether.
A beast that never was, if you will.
But enough strolling down memory lane. The opening four tracks of "Silver Eye" are specially engineered to grab your full attention. "Anymore" is a radio-friendly romp through glistening distortion and raunchy synths, true, but there's a future-facing vibe to it that gives the simplistic yet impactful track an added sense of depth. A fun fact: some of the lyrics just might be recycled material from a never-released track. "All Night Operator: Part 1", a b-side to the band's single "Number 1", featured the astonishingly similar lyrics, "I'll connect you to the other side", and a second part was never released. It could very well be that this album is even more related to the "Supernature" era than we might think. In fact, I'm surprised nobody else has caught this striking similarity. Compare the lyrics to "Anymore" to "All Night Operator" and see for yourself.
Then, the band brings out the big guns. Enter "Systemagic" — an incredible electro-tribal romp that I can only describe as a beautiful explosion that I'm sure my speakers had an electro-orgasm presenting. Easily my favourite track on the album, it screams, shimmies and refuses to relent. This is Goldfrapp's most powerful and stomping track since "Train", "Slippage" or even "Strict Machine", I daresay. If there's one track you check out from this album, make it "Systemagic". Will Gregory, do give yourself a round of applause, as it's one of your best yet.
I'm almost wanting to beg you to hear it, really.
Other highlights include the beautifully wild, growling "Tigerman" — which is like a Kate Bush recording sucked into the vacuum of space and chased with interstellar drums — and the gender-focused electric stomper "Become The One", complete with clever lyric delivery and tribal electro-instrumentation. Following up is the decadent "Faux Suede Drifter", which caresses the eardrums with some of Alison Goldfrapp's most unique and innocently beautiful vocal treatments in years. The lyrics presented illustrate it as one of her most deeply personal and soulful tracks in recent memory — possibly since "Let It Take You" back in 2005.
"Zodiac Black" is a must-listen, very much akin to the dark, alien future of Rare's 2000 video game Perfect Dark — a distinctive and warbling dystopian sound I've longed for the band to revisit since their remix of Lady Gaga's "Judas" several years ago. Again, some of Alison's best vocals are presented in the thundering soundscape of this track. "Beast That Never Was", with a thoughtful emphasis on space and sonic structure, is a very special track that wouldn't feel out of place if instrumentally recorded for a mid-nineties Donkey Kong Country game. It feels like the one-off of the album — it has a certain presence that I can't identify in any other track.
"Everything Is Never Enough" just might have been lifted (or to some, rescued) from the "Head First" era of 2010, and it's a breath of fresh air I didn't know I wanted following the beautiful yet similar downtempo whirling of the previous three tracks on the record. Injected with a unique blend of dystopian optimism and retro throwback, it's a wonderfully detailed piece. It's ever-changing, feeling out-of-place and then right at home as it goes along. Following up is "Moon In Your Mouth", a blissfully addictive piece that I can only hope receives an extended version with an extra chorus. Majestic lyrics such as "Every moment is a luxury" offer a decadent glimpse into Alison Goldfrapp's humanity and reflectivity. The delivery and synth-addled soundscape almost makes one want to reach out and provide the solace this beautiful woman's voice hungers for. It's just incredible.
"Ocean" is the closing track for "Silver Eye", and with the band's focus on the harmonies and connections between humanity and nature it feels like a fitting conclusion. But don't expect another one of "the slow-eys" as the band term them; this is a daring leap back into the explosive personality of earlier tracks in the record, yet it feels completely separate and one-of-a-kind. With angry, raw and beautifully vicious opening vocals which were recorded in one take that was impossible to repeat, "Ocean" roars into life like a great wave that sucks the shore dry before pounding back with strength unfurled tenfold. The chorus is one of the most impressive in the band's entire repertoire thanks to Alison Goldfrapp's vocals amidst a backdrop of shimmering synths akin to TRON: Legacy-era Daft Punk meets "Tomorrow's Harvest" - era Boards of Canada (the latter being recently discovered Alison and influencing the production of the record). Will Gregory has never been more on-point, precise and masterful at his craft. I can almost picture strobe lighting and wind tunnels encapsulating figures in ever-trailing fabrics when hearing this closer. This is how you end an album.
"Silver Eye" is a beast of a record that dares to be different in a way that's unique from other Goldfrapp records — and yes, I highly suggest listening to it all in one sitting to gain a better understanding of the method behind this beautiful madness. Each track is a unique entity possessing a different heartbeat, and in fact when strung together into a project such as this, they all meld together quite (system)magically. While previous record "Tales Of Us" has a special place in my heart and is still a record I play on vinyl regularly, "Silver Eye" is just too damn fascinating and multi-faceted to leave aside for long. As much as I am an admirer of this band and their journey, I'm not letting it impact my overall opinion on the record itself as a separate, non-related work.
And you know what? It's amazing. "Silver Eye", named in honour of the moon, is a deeply reflective and sharp project that dares to contemplate the stars, seas and very air we breathe amidst a swirling sea of synths and crackling electricity. Combining Alison Goldfrapp's beautifully fragile vocals with Will Gregory's meticulous attention to sonic detail makes perfect sense. "Silver Eye" is mechanical, transformative, and all-in-all one hell of a return from a tragically-forgotten duo of musical geniuses.
And that's a term I do not use lightly.