Goldfrapp, Astoria, London

Kevin Harley
Sunday 29 September 2013 03:47

Slippery devil, Alison Goldfrapp. For her debut album, Felt Mountain, she togged herself up in Weimar clobber and sang lush torch songs in a voice that was part Twin Peaks-era Julee Cruise, part choirboy, part Alpine yodeller and part art-college louche. It was nothing if not distinctly rich, but its sleepy, velveteen tones failed to translate to a live setting, and suffered an ignominious branding as a dinner-party favourite.

So Goldfrapp shifted the goalposts for her second album, Black Cherry, trading in a kind of synthetic glam-pop and self-consciously performative sexuality. It's clever and knowing, suggesting that Goldfrapp is not so much a purveyor of music for coffee-tables and adverts as a pop chameleon, trailing reference points along the lines of David Bowie, Kate Bush and natural actors such as Beth Gibbons.

It works better live than her debut album, too, given that the songs have some electro-disco pep about them. "Crystalline Green" rumbles and stutters over tumbling, twinkly synth sounds. "Train" and "Twist" grind and bump with impeccably icy hauteur. It's all slickly realised, from the Hammer House of Horror atmospherics of "Lovely Head", to the way Goldfrapp's mercurial voice is blended into the synth sound as impeccably as it was the electric violin of Felt Mountain. But there's still something missing. In fairness, the venue is partly to blame: after all, when cinematic mood-music numbers such as "Deep Honey" evoke images of Julee Cruise crooning Angela Carter-esque tales of lust in some fairy-tale Alpine forest, London's sticky-floored gig scene can't help but fall short.

Even so, the whole deal feels coolly interesting rather than captivating. Sure, a degree of distance goes with the territory of a musician playing with ideas of performance. But the absence of any chemistry within the band, or feeling in the delivery, makes the show feel near-academic - even a cover of Baccara's "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie" in which the set's mix of cheese, sauce and arch art-pop ought to peak, feels humourless and flatly studied. Goldfrapp's standing as the tasteful dinner-party set's chanteuse of choice may be ripe for re-assessment, but with shows such as this, you can see why the tag stuck in the first place.

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