Goldfrapp’s first album – 2000′s ‘Felt Mountain’ – was such an anomaly at the time of its release that it bears mention to say just how incredibly strange it was. Here was an album released at the tail end of Britpop that sounded so completely disconnected from that scene as to sound otherworldly. It sounded not unlike John Barry composing a James Bond score on acid on the moon, and through this, or perhaps just due to its sheer originality, Alison Goldfrapp gained a sizable following.
She then released 2002′s ‘Black Cherry’ which was a gigantic departure from the mysterious ambient pop of ‘Felt Mountain.’ ‘Black Cherry’ was a great album at the time, but now sounds dated thanks to its reliance on the electro-synth-pop sound that was so popular at the time. ‘Black Cherry’ was released at a time when Fischerspooner still had a chance, and ice queens like Berlin’s Miss Kittin were having worldwide hits sounding as cold as possible. It’s not that ‘Black Cherry’ was a bad album – it still holds up, for the most part – it just isn’t nearly as original as ‘Felt Mountain.’ 2005′s ‘Supernature’ was the group’s biggest commercial success due to the electronic T. Rex homage “Ooh La La” which was soon heard in many, many commercials, etc. It was Goldfrapp’s biggest hit to date yet sat on an album that struggled to recapture the brilliance of her earlier career.
‘Felt Mountain’ was such a singularly great album that when Goldfrapp tried once again to capture the weirdness on 2006′s ‘Seventh Tree’ it fell flat. ‘Seventh Tree’ would have been a great album if it had been Alison’s first album, or indeed, both of her electro albums hadn’t been released in the meantime. “A&E” is a wonderful song as is the magnificicent “Clowns” (which is strangely omitted on this Greatest Hits compilation), and are highlights in Goldfrapp’s oeuvre. Yet this compilation doesn’t work.
The compilation doesn’t work because it feels like someone walked into EMI (the band’s old label, and the people behind this frankly not-so-great compilation) and said “Just the hits, ma’am” without any forethought as to tracklisting or even songs that would fit on a compilation of Alison Goldfrapp’s best songs. Her electro period is well represented here and it’s clear that whoever put this together favors Alison’s more straightforward pop-writing to her vocal insanity. I’m gobsmacked as to how they managed to exclude “Clowns” – one of Alison’s best and most original compositions – yet managed to include “Believer,” which is, frankly, totally shit.
At her best and at her worst, Alison always walked a fine line between ‘talented vocalist making albums that sound like they were recorded on the moon’ and ‘making albums that sounded like the kind of thing an insipid middle-aged interior decorator might listen to for inspiration.’ Here, it’s clear that whoever put this together is aiming for the latter. There isn’t much on here that actually showcases Alison. There is only a deluge of electro songs that sound like the closing credits to a just-OK TV drama. Where’s the bite? Alison also has (had?) a wicked sense of humor: when asked to be the guest music reviewer in a 2001 issue of The Face she infamously wrote biting, crippling, and often hilarious reviews of everyone else’s work except for her own. Nowhere is that apparent on this compilation. If you’d never heard Alison before this compilation, you’d write her off as a sub-par Robyn.
But the thing is… she deserves a lot more than this scant collection of her most recognizable melodies, which is basically all this compilation amounts to. Two new songs don’t hit how they should (‘Yellow Halo‘ briefly flirts with greatness) and this makes the whole package come across as Jimi Hendrix relegated to playing the chicken dance.
Alison has an incredible vocal instrument and one can only wish that this compilation allowed her to sound weirder. After listening to ‘The Singles’ the only assertation I can make is that I had really hoped she’d be singing about clowns, wolves, spaceships, and felt mountains more. Her voice belongs in the stratosphere, and sounds far too grounded in the nightclubs where she found some success in.