Seemingly burned by the underwhelming response to 2010’s Head First, a full-throttle foray into 80s Hi-NRG synth-pop which frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp has since admitted she isn’t particularly proud of, the electronica scene’s most chameleon-like duo now return to the dreamy cinematic sound of their debut for sixth studio album, Tales Of Us.
Indeed, recorded in the English countryside, its ten short stories – all but one of which are named in the first person – undeniably share a similar fondness for John Barry’s epic James Bond scores and David Lynch-esque atmospherics as 2000’s Mercury Prize-nominated Felt Mountain.
Drenched in the kind of sweeping strings that would have soundtracked Sean Connery’s stint as 007, lead single “Drew” is a gorgeously lush affair which allows Alison to showcase her seductive tones in all their glory. Elsewhere, the soft skittering rhythms and gentle acoustics of “Simone” echoes the haunting dream-pop of Julee Cruise’s theme to Twin Peaks.
Unlike Goldfrapp’s earlier big-screen epic, which also ventured into trip-hop, cabaret and baroque pop, Tales Of Us only ever really deviates from its widescreen template twice: firstly with the slow-motion disco of “Thea,” and then with the pastoral folk-pop of closer “Clay,” an approach which initially makes the record appear a little too one-note.
But as with the shoegazey guitars on the ominous opener “Jo” and the eerie whistle-led melody on “Stranger,” the album slowly unfolds its hidden charms with each listen. “Laurel,” the tale of a Hollywood actress married to a serial killer, and “Annabel,” a noirish lullaby inspired by the story of a hermaphrodite torn between two genders, further ramp up the intrigue.
Those who prefer the dancefloor-striding half of Goldfrapp’s split personality will no doubt be disappointed at the lack of beats and synths, likewise those who were anticipating a new bold direction. But while Tales Of Us is perhaps the first time that the enigmatic duo have looked backwards, it’s also arguably their most mesmerising offering yet.