Aside from stray thoughts on how frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp looks like an Olsen twin on the cover of Seventh Tree, you have to wonder, really, how much did Goldfrapp hate Supernature?
Gone are the grinding synths, pulsating disco-beats and radio-friendly melodies of that commercial-breakthrough record, replaced in Seventh Tree with gently plucked guitars, orchestral arrangements and meandering songwriting.
Knowingly, Seventh Tree opens with its quietest track, the elegiac and biting "Clowns" — in which Alison sings with her trademark pout: "Only clowns will play with those balloons/What d'ya want to look like Barbie for?" As an opening statement, "Clowns" is spot on and prepares you for the downtempo journey ahead. The following tracks, including "Little Bird" (whose haunting "July-lie-lie" chorus will give you shivers) and "Happiness," pick up the tempo slightly from the first, but the record only starts to let loose in the last thirds.
Everything before the last quartet of songs is like a warm-up of sorts. "A&E," "Cologne Cerrone Houdini," "Caravan Girl" and "Monster Love" are sublime pop payoffs for those who stuck with Seventh Tree's earlier parts. If "Clowns" is like the first, bleak hours of morning, "Monster Love," is like the first warm burst of sunlight through a window, signalling the start of a new day.
It's all brilliant to say the least. Seventh Tree is the ultimate aural F-U to Supernature — and an F-U to the pop intelligentsia who showered the duo with praise right before hitting the studio to co-opt their sound — but it's also an achievement in its own right. As the album ends, you almost want to hear Alison Goldfrapp cackling, "Top that, bitches."
It's unlikely anyone will this year.
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.