However compelling the present, it’s hard to put the past entirely to one side. Tonight, in Manchester, this truism is one which potentially encumbers both performer and venue.
For Alison Goldfrapp, stepping out for the first time under her own full name, the past whose weight she shoulders is the body of work she produced with Will Gregory over the first two decades of the century, from Felt Mountain in the year 2000 to 2017’s Silver Eye. Goldfrapp, the band, could occasionally seem compromised by their commitment to eclecticism, so that their work ran the risk of sounding like a wry collage of pop’s signifiers, an artful rummaging through its dressing-up box. For the venue formerly known as Factory International, the long shadow it labours under is the accumulated nostalgic mythology of its namesake, and the Hacienda nightclub to which its fortunes were increasingly hostage.
It’ s early days for the latter, whose interior spaces, if notably less characterful than its shell, are utilitarian and navigable, like a terminal built for culture rather than air travel. The concert hall itself has a kind of school assembly newness, emphasised by the level camber of its stalls, obliging the least tall of the audience to suffer craned necks and an undignified shuffle for sight-lines.
For all that, there’s a crescendo of warmth and a rising murmur of excitement, befitting the evening’s sense of occasion, as, arriving on stage to the overture of Sparks’ Number One Song In Heaven, resplendent in an outfit topped by science fiction shoulder pads, Alison Goldfrapp renders such architectural hair-splitting all but inconsequential. The figure she cuts is striking, but it is her singing voice that ensures that, for all the choreographed physicality of a circus-like rotation of three dancers, Goldfrapp, even to the right of it, holds centre stage. Extraordinary in its tonal richness, and almost jarringly at odds with its more commonplace spoken counterpart, it resists ready comparison through comprising opposites; earthily ethereal, libidinously angelic, it binds the songs’ structures, evoking the sense of impatient anticipation that drives so much of the new material making up the greater part of the set.
Derived in the main from her debut solo LP The Love Invention, on which she collaborated with producers Richard Greenwood, Toby Scott and Richard X, they haughtily outstrip the craftsmanlike competence which can be dispiritingly typical of new recordings later in pop careers. Instead, they tap into the currents of contemporary pop, with a hardly a backward glance at the sources from which they were generated, hopscotch skipping away from the playground exuberance of the likes of Tom Tom Club to share a common cause with the best of Carly Rae Jepsen or Dua Lipa.
In this respect, recent single Never Stop resounds almost like a manifesto. Driving relentlessly forward, underpinned by the autobahn rhythms that are the endorphin pulse of so much of her solo oeuvre, it’s confident enough to blow air kisses to artful 80s novelty act, Will Powers, while side-stepping the abyss of pastiche. More to the point, although, in a certain light, it might sound like a turn-of-the-century near-thing, Annie, whose wondrous Me Plus One was somehow shunned by the charts, it does so only inasmuch as Annie herself sounded like Goldfrapp.
This, then, is the triumph of Goldfrapp’s (love) reinvention; in sounding like no one so much as herself, she reminds her audience of how much of modern pop for the middle aged shares its DNA with her sensibilities. More, with her current collaborators, while remaining receptive to the same disparity of influences, the stylistic traces of her own appropriations are incorporated less obtrusively into the whole, so that the overall effect is less jumble sale and more couture.
A cut above those she has inspired, and a step away from her own past, Alison Goldfrapp has both eyes set on her future.
Main image: Alison Goldfrapp by Jody Hartley