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July/August 2023 Cover Story: Gold Rush

The pride and the glory of Alison Goldfrapp’s disco nouveau…

By Elio Iannacci 

“Don’t let the fear in you…hold you back. Just let it come to you.… Meet the attack.” 

These lyrics – plucked from the title track of Alison Goldfrapp’s newly released Love Invention album – offer a clue into the solo artist’s current state of mind. Fortunately, the resilience and exuberance found throughout the disc’s choruses and verses follow suit. So much so that it’s hard to believe Love Invention is the first time Alison has released a full-length project without her former songwriting partner Will Gregory. 

The band, named Goldfrapp, spent nearly 20 years and seven studio albums ushering in countless dance floor trends. The duo successfully went on to redefine electroclash, Italo-disco and progressive house, and subsequently helped to totally reshape the new millennium’s pop-dance landscape. Alison and Will’s music was so influential that icons such as Madonna cited Goldfrapp’s 2005 Supernature album as the stimulus to Confessions of the Dancefloor – and she quickly paid the price for her public devotion (a sexist British tabloid published a photo of Ms. Ciccone carrying Supernature with the headline “Oldfrapp”). Kylie Minogue’s Goldfrapp adoration followed, and she promptly asked Alison and Will to write for her album X (fans are still waiting for the demo to leak). Soon after, Lady Gaga and Depeche Mode tapped the pair to remix the songs “Judas” and “Halo.” 

When the group’s first disc, Felt Mountain, hit the scene in 2000, the band couldn’t have been further from the dance floor. Yet critics and fans couldn’t help but be hypnotized by the operatic notes Alison was hitting and the innovative ways she co-produced James Bond-ian soundscapes with Will. Their collaborations resulted in the crafting of evocative songs such as “Pilots,” “Lovely Head” and “Paper Bag” (that last track includes the delicious line, “no time to fuck but you like the rush”). Their second and third albums, Black Cherry and Supernature, solidified a proper rush of queer fans who adored the gritty, guitar-tambourine-laser beam fusion of their evolution.

Moving on

In many ways, Love Invention serves as a big step forward from two decades of sharing a vision. Instead, it evokes a singular prophecy for Alison, who boldly decided to release her debut on the eve of her 57th birthday. While it is a disc that draws from her past, Love Invention reflects the same sort of intensity and majesty as Annie Lennox’s first album, Diva – a debut that went on to solidify Lennox’s status as a Feminist-Queer-Fashion tri-con. 

Love Invention is Diva’s clubbier, sultrier and lustier cousin – brimming with testimony and newfound agency. It expresses all the paradoxical touchstones of an unforgettable inauguration with anthems such as “The Beat Divine” and “Digging Deeper Now.” So many tracks on Love Invention are a mélange of the sonic flavors Alison toyed with in her 23 years as a frontwoman for Goldfrapp. For more than two decades, the pair cherry-picked sounds from pre-parties and after-parties coming out of some of the best queer underground clubs of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Alison’s solo effort re-examines those eras but this time through genres such as house, hi-NRG and nü-disco. Cuts ranging from 77 bpm to 125 bpm echo the fierce dance floor command of early recordings by Hercules and Love Affair, Everything But The Girl’s most beguiling remixes and up-tempo offerings from Björk, Justice and Röyksopp (Alison recorded “Impossible” with the latter group). For Alison, this new crop of songs represents a release from her life in duo mode, and conveys a lone statement about liberation across every sphere of her life.

“These new songs are my way of trying to find my way out of the norm,” she says via Zoom from her home studio in London. “To get out and discover and decipher euphoria in musical terms meant going towards something rhythmic and dance oriented with certain chord progressions. I was trying to ignore the world and get to those wonderful sweet spots in music that are joyful and positive, but I wanted to maintain a certain depth while getting into the frenzy of it all.”

Looking at our inner and outer worlds

One of Love Invention’s standout tracks, a cut titled “So Hard, So Hot,” is a prime example of Alison’s knack for flip-flopping between introspection and extrospection. Lines such as “We’re the souls we invite” and “We should be here and now and love what we got” speak to the individual and the communal feels you get under the mirror ball. While Alison tried to encapsulate the highs and lows of clubland emotion, she found herself thinking of ideas that went well beyond the dance floor. 

“‘So Hard, So Hot’ is blatantly sexual, but I was also thinking about the extreme heat wave we had in the UK last year while I wrote it,” she says. “It was the last song on the album that I did, so you can feel this tension in the verses. I was imagining this idea of living underground, loving the intensity of feeling really hot and then coming out of the darkness to be free. It’s a comment on climate change but it’s also a deeply personal and sexual track.”

Another song off the album, called “Fever,” speaks to the effects of the environment – both internal and external. Its lyrics merge ideas around erotic ecstasy and bodily transformation, and throw back to a few lingering PTSD-addled thoughts regarding the pandemic. “At the time I was writing it, I was reading about how scientists are finding plastic in our blood, which seems terrifying,” Alison says. “I was also imagining this fever of a sexual affair too – because affairs can feel incredibly exciting and change you. I also thought of humans being the fever – as hosts for a germ and a virus.”

Another song, “Never Stop,” is bred from commentary and social observation as well. It was partially ignited by the onslaught of targeted, faux self-help mantras and strategies that Alison has been pained to scroll through. 

“Whenever I turn my phone on, I’m bombarded by people telling me how many times I need to change or move my body. Last night something came up on my phone, telling me that kicking your arse before you go to sleep is really good,” she says, laughing. “Seriously, this post told me to lie on my back and kick up with my legs and do that 20 times! I find it amusing fodder.… There’s always some woman telling me to drink green juice for five days. Fuck, if I drank just juice for five days right now, I’d probably just pass out and get really ill.”

The visuals for videos such as “Never Stop” link to Alison’s dark humour. For example, her collaborator, collage artist Mat Maitland, used AI programs to duplicate, morph and hybridize Alison’s body in various frames and scenes. Through Maitland’s queer lens, Alison’s hands and wrists become hooves, flourish into bouquets and giant maggots; and her face becomes adorned in such a way that she presents as an electronic deity or high priestess.

“I wanted the visuals to feel dystopian and urban and have a fantastical nature, but not in a pastoral way that I’ve done before,” she says of her newfound crop of images and videos. “That’s what is so amazing about AI. Mat and I were feeding [my lyrics into the program] as prompts to direct the technology to [rework] his shoot, and it reacted to my songs in such an extreme way. The worm fish hand is one of my favourite bits.” 

This isn’t the first time Alison pushed the envelope on film. In 2010, with Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us, she partnered with her then-girlfriend, director Lisa Gunning (Alison is currently in a relationship with architect Peter Culley) to create a 30-minute series of connected shorts using five album songs as a soundtrack. While great moments in Goldfrapp’s body of work are rooted in queer collabs (see Peter Rauhofer’s mixes of “Strict Machine” or Ralphi Rosario’s spin of “Systemagic”), Tales of Us remains the project that moved Alison to express her own relationship with queerness in a much more realized way. For example, Gunning and Goldfrapp created a stunning video for the Tales of Us song “Annabel” – which was inspired by a novel from Canadian author Kathleen Winter about an intersex adolescent. 

“I was really taken by the bleak, stark environment that was in the book and by the way Labrador was written as this weird, end-of-the-earth Shangri-La,” she says. Upon hearing that both the novel and video are banned in Florida classrooms, Alison responds with a long, weary sigh before commenting. “It feels like we’re just going backwards again, doesn’t it? It’s almost like the more we become open and able to talk about all these things brings on a whole load of other people who just want to destroy them and take us backwards.”

What is moving Alison forward, however, is her own connection to polarity – be it artistic or biotic. Love Invention’s core, while poetic in nature, draws from the world of sci-fi and is also swayed and inspired by the hormone therapy Alison is currently on. “I’m on a lot of drugs in order to keep me kind of going – which is basically HRT [hormone replacement therapy],” she says. “Even the title came from this idea of a character who’s invented a potion to give you the ultimate love experience…which is inspired by all the medication I’m on and all the medication we are told to take.”

ELIO IANNACCI is an award-winning arts reporter and graduate student at York University whose research interests include ethnomusicology and gender studies. He has contributed to more than 80 publications worldwide, profiling icons such as Barbra Streisand, Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé. His academic work is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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