I’m not sure what I can possibly add to all the praise heaped upon this bona-fide classic. From the moment it hit our ears back in 2000 with its glorious twisted pop strangeness it became a classic must have record, and now there is this gold vinyl re-issue with extensive sleeve notes from Lior Philips to coincide with the current tour.
Most of you should be familiar with Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s electronic retro tinged stylings, skirting twangy 60’s inspired soundtracks and gloriously S&M velvet darkness, glam and groovy, silky and sexy. This is where it all began, and in my opinion it was never bettered. From the opening whistling refrain of “Lovely Head” to the closing raw emotion of the distorted soprano judders on “Horse Tears” it’s one awesome ride into dark cinematic terrains and dramatic European landscapes.
The album came about with the meeting of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, both of whom had worked alongside some of the Bristol trip hop scene, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tricky and Portishead. They signed to Mute records in August 1999 and were ensconced in a rented house in the Wiltshire countryside to write, which both parties found difficult. Gregory wasn’t used to working with others and consequently Goldfrapp felt isolated and scared, which were possibly reflected in the dark little vignettes acted out in the lyric writing especially. Words like ‘It’s a strange day/No colours or shapes/No sound in my head/I forget who I am’ from “Utopia”, and ‘Nobody’s here, no-one but me’ from “Lovely Head” describe an isolation from the world around her as she delves deeper into an inner world of dark fantasies, gothic fairy tales and the strangely surreal. From the monochromatic split screen cover, reminiscent of German expressionism, to the soaring string crescendo of “Utopia”, this album is steeped in glorious widescreen technicolor cinemascope, with shades of John Barry/Shirley Bassey, and Ennio Morricone, and great blasts of ‘hills are alive’ romanticism and epic, stirring Maurice Jarre soundscapes. Elsewhere the far darker brooding melancholy of the romantics, from the Brontes to Bush via Byron and Shelley (more Mary than Percy). Frankenstein is name checked in “Lovely Head”.
Their world is unsettled. It is at odds even with itself. The weather is bleak or stormy and it is always cold(‘The world stops for snow’ – “Paper Bag”). There is pain and loneliness and fear and vast crevasses of despair. But there is also love and intimacy and tenderness and there are moments of sheer unbridled joy, which move mountains. Take stand out track “Utopia” for example, which begins in an icy Austrian outpost, tinkling tears in a vast white nothingness devoid of humanity, where there are ‘no colours or shapes/no sound in my head’, and yet the world is very much alive and the music becomes a gleaming glacier moving everything aside in its quest for life. “Lovely Head” screams its humanity so quietly and so delicately, coming on like Elaine Paige doing John Barry, but turning all deliciously weird with that affected soprano, like Helena Bonham Carter in a Tim Burton movie.
Total lushness is the order of the day for “Paper Bag” with its romantic waltz, even though it is shot through with delicious melancholy. “Human” is as close as they get to their peers Portishead, but Alison Goldfrapp’s tender, sensual, romantic voice takes us into a rich warm velvety cocoon of sex bordering on perversion. “Felt Mountain” and “Oompa Radar” are dreams rather than songs, and “Horse Tears” is heartbreaking, and as close to a love song as you’re likely to get on here, albeit one set against such a despairing backdrop of shivering cold, ‘and you love the tears too deeply’
I can’t say much more really. If you don’t know it then just get it. It is truly one of the greatest albums.
Felt Mountain (2022 Edition) is out now on Mute Records – order/stream here
See them live at the following dates (tickets here):
7 April – Edinburgh, Usher Hall
8 April – Manchester, Albert Hall
10 April – Bexhill-on-Sea, De La Warr Pavilion
11 April – Cambridge, Corn Exchange
13 April – Birmingham, Symphony Hall
14 April – London, Royal Festival Hall
15 April – London,Royal Festival Hall
Find out more on Goldfrapp’s official website
Review by Andrew Wood