The artist formerly known as half of Goldfrapp deploys powerful creative forces for a louche debut solo record whose modus operandi is essentially ‘poppers o’clock’
Indie darlings they may be, but Goldfrapp (the duo) sometimes displayed remarkably good business sense: replicating the glam rock stylings of Strict Machine for a bigger audience with Ooh La La, leasing Lovely Head to One2One, and now Alison Goldfrapp releases a club-oriented record on Skint two years after a certain other indie darling struck gold with a similar idea. The Love Invention boasts copious credits for original ’80s revivalist Richard X as well as the so far underrated Ghost Culture, and at various points is home to absolutely top-quality songwriting.
The title track is an early highlight with its cascading synths, disco groove and syncopated bloops, a paean to the transcendent power of love (“Don’t let the fear in you / hold you back / just let it come to you / meet the attack”). If the song’s wide-eyed affectation is a tad satirical then the effect is as subtle as on The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, and the toplines are just as infectious. Elsewhere, In Electric Blue steps into electro-pop territory, as crystalline vocal melodies mingle with contemplative pads and insistent semi-quaver rhythms run through the arrangement, like BloodPop never left.
While Alison herself is a writer and producer on all tracks, it’s worth peeking under the hood to see the creative team she’s assembled rotate. Subterfuge, for example, sees Ghost Culture in a more prominent role, and its hook deserves an Ivor Novello just for working in a reference to lab equipment (“Subterfuge / you got me running in a loop-de-loop / you got me spinning in a centrifuge / all day, all night”). The track is a departure from 4×4, as the bassy beat feels more inspired by R&B and the pads are decidedly warm and introspective.
Fever has been given the status of quasi-lead single, a version produced by Paul Woolford released in advance and featuring on the album’s deluxe edition. Fever (with the parenthesis “This Is The Real Thing” used to differentiate it) is undoubtedly a highlight, with bubbly bass and sleek chords giving it a nice shot of euphoria. Good and reliable though Woolford is, both Fever and the more minimal Special Request remix lack the dynamic contrast and satisfying structural elements of the song we hear on the record proper, particularly the middle section where the arrangement reduces to filtered synth and vocoded vocals.
So far, so good, though there is one relatively subtle issue with this album that unfortunately recurs on multiple songs. Regular listeners will already know that Alison has a wonderfully sultry and expressive voice, so why is the vocal production here so unflattering, creaking under the weight of digital processing? Whatever the reason, breathier sections therefore take on an abrasive, hissing quality, and while some tracks could possibly justify this as an intentional effect, The Beat Divine and closing number SloFLo are noticeably weakened.
And what of its possible inspiration, Róisín Machine? That record by (of course) Róisín Murphy (and its companion-piece reworking as Crooked Machine) chose to thread tracks together in a partially mixed format, extending their structures and exploring nuanced topics, making it arguably more ambitious than this collection of poppy numbers. But one might just as easily listen to the gorgeous 303 ostinatos and glistening arpeggiator of So Hard So Hot and wonder who needs that more artsy stuff anyway (“We’re the souls we invite / we’re the sparks in the blue / we’re the curve, curve of light”). In truth there’s space enough for both, for The Love Invention wades into territory more mainstream than even Supernature, slotting merrily between Murphy’s recent output and Kylie Minogue‘s return to her Disco best, and succeeds very well in creating stylish, louche, mature bops. In so doing, it unquestionably establishes Alison Goldfrapp as a solo force.