British synthsters Goldfrapp are back with their seventh studio album Silver Eye, a collection of tracks that feel like a return to the duo's roots of thudding electro-pop with a hint of darkness, reminiscent of their best-known album, Black Cherry. Goldfrapp have always shuffled through different styles within the electro-pop domain, not sticking to one approach for more than an album; from the folksy Seventh Tree to the electro-ballads of 2013's Tales of Us to hunk-of-'80s flashback Head First.
In any case, those keen to see Goldfrapp ditch the guitars and nostalgia will be pleased here. The album leaps out of the gate with driving, almost squirming bass on album opener "Anymore," a wholly danceable slice of old-school Goldfrapp, followed up with a similar heady vibe on "Systemagic," which pushes the envelope by manipulating frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp's characteristic vocals into part-human, part-machine territory — but in a way that glows, wholly dodging cheeseball Auto Tune. Despite their musical strength, such tracks also feel a little like Black Cherry-esque Goldfrapp on the lyrical front; with the sort of meaningless lyrics that could be synced to a TV commercial, they lose a little of their oomph, but on a purely visceral level, it's some fine electronica.
But those openers aren't emblematic of the whole product. The remainder of the album pivots away from such heavier sounds, moving into somewhat dreamier territory. "Zodiac Black" strays furthest, going outright ethereal before late-album tracks like "Moon in Your Mouth" turn the voltage back up again — it's a downtempo, strangely haunting slow jam that feels simultaneously like peak Goldfrapp and something wholly new.
That dreamier tone partly defines the album, but the flair comes and goes on certain tracks. "Tigerman" is the biggest misstep, relaxing the vibe to the point where the track feels like an electro-dirge, or a disposable interlude. It's inoffensive, but hardly attention-grabbing.
Between the driving pop of the openers and dreamier tone elsewhere, there may be a valid criticism to be made that the album straddles two sides a little much. But one tonal thread holds it together: a darkwave-esque foreboding feeling, not dissimilar to other synth-driven acts like TR/ST; it's neither major nor minor, neither depressing nor cheery. Between appealing beats and this discomfiting tone, Silver Eye sits in a middle zone — and while it could give listeners some better-defined emotional content behind the android-y veneer, it's by no means boring. (Mute)