A majestic collection of 21st century synthpop – complete with hints of disco, a sprinkling of acid house and a big dollop of glamour – ‘The Love Invention’ is the long-awaited debut solo album from Alison Goldfrapp. Backed by some fabulously playful AI-generated visuals, it’s no surprise that the record rocketed straight into the UK Top 10 in the week of its release…

Nearly a quarter of a century after they were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for ‘Felt Mountain’, their genre-fluid debut album that mixed electronica, Weimar cabaret and acoustic folk, Goldfrapp are all over modern pop. You can hear their trademark synthpop-meets-glam rock sound, first introduced on ‘Black Cherry’, the 2003 follow-up to ‘Felt Mountain’, in the music of Madonna and Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Kanye West, Let’s Eat Grandma and La Roux, and even further left field, right the way through to Fat White Family and Warmduscher.

Alison Goldfrapp and her musical partner Will Gregory were not the first to blend the influences of the likes of Kraftwerk and T. Rex into a glittering sonic stomp – those that got there ahead of them range from the Gary Glitter-covering Human League to the Roxy Music-influenced World Of Twist – but they took it mainstream. The duo had already scored four UK Top 40 hits from ‘Black Cherry’ before ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Number 1’, two tracks from 2005’s million-selling ‘Supernature’, camped in the Top 10, with an Ivor Novello songwriting award for ‘Strict Machine’ plus BRIT and Grammy nominations along the way. ‘Ooh La La’, incidentally, has now notched up an incredible 47 million streams.

“I remember being at an awards ceremony once where they had very specific categories,” says Alison. “You know, dance music, rock music, and so on. I hated those rigid categories. But everybody would ask, ‘What are Goldfrapp? Are they dance? Are they electronic?’. We’d always been a hybrid.”

But the distinctive pairing of Alison and Will is currently on hold. Now some three decades into her career, the singer has become a solo artist – an unexpected move she describes as “stepping out of my little box” – although she is adamant this doesn’t necessarily mean the group that bears her surname will never make another record again.

“I’ve worked with Will for over 20 years and we’ve released seven albums, so I’d say we’ve had a pretty good stint together,” she explains. “Will has always had other projects in between, going off and doing his thing, and I’ve wanted to do my thing for a long time. Everything’s great, it’s all good between us – we had a catch-up only yesterday – but neither of us has plans to make any new music together. We’d never say never, but he’s doing his thing and I’m focusing on this…”

Alison Goldfrapp plays with her hair as she talks. We’re chatting on Zoom and she’s sitting in a featureless, unidentifiable room somewhere in east London, positioned a little way back from the camera. I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or not, but it gives her a slightly distant and elusive presence, which is something that has always been part of the Goldfrapp aesthetic.

Having signed a deal with Skint Records, she’s been quietly releasing solo tracks into the ether for the past few months. First there was ‘So Hard So Hot’, an electro banger with shades of acid house that she recorded during the 2022 heatwave.

Alison says the lyrics of ‘So Hard So Hot’ are “a comment on the climate, but it has a sexual connotation too”. The song is accompanied by a surrealist, AI-assisted video directed by Mat Maitland, who has worked with her going right back to 2003, and she describes the visuals as “seeking to reflect a mythical world that is simultaneously powerful and fragile”.

Mat also directed the video for a second single, ‘NeverStop’, which followed shortly after. Alison’s inspiration for the track came from “feeling the wonder of nature” during lockdown.

“It’s about committing to connect with one another, as well as with nature and our surroundings, while trying to navigate through the contradictions and complexities of life,” she notes.

And now there’s her first solo album, ‘The Love Invention’, which again showcases Alison’s chameleonic persona and her musical evolution. The electro-glam of ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Supernature’ is still in there somewhere, but this is a much more dancefloor-friendly record – slinky, gossamer synthpop influenced by house and especially disco.

“I’m a creative person, so I always like to be doing something or making something,” she smiles. “As an artist, I think that it’s important to feel excited about what you’re doing… and I’m incredibly excited about what I’m doing.”

This, it turns out, wasn’t always the case. Back in 2019, two years after the last Goldfrapp album, ‘Silver Eye’, she says she’d “fallen out of love” with making music and needed some sort of reset – both professionally and personally.

“I’ve got a low boredom threshold,” she explains. “So I took some time out, focusing on drawing and taking photographs, and I had a sort of rethink about my life. But then the pandemic happened, the lockdown happened, and I thought, ‘Oh my god’.”

During this period, Alison realised she wanted to work with other artists, so she started reaching out by email. Some of the people she wrote to didn’t even bother to reply.

“Which was quite interesting,” she says. “It was certainly a learning curve. I suppose that’s the modern thing, to not reply to people.”

But Norwegian duo Röyksopp – Goldfrapp peers of sorts and a group that she’s admired for years – did write back. And the Scandinavians were as intrigued by the thought of collaborating as she was.

“At first, I was thinking, ‘I’ll pop across to Norway and make a little holiday of it’,” she chuckles. “I had this whole fantasy of me hanging out in the studio with them. But lockdown meant I couldn’t go there, of course.”

Once it became clear that the project was going to have to be completed remotely, she set up a small studio in her home.

“I kept wondering, ‘Can I do this?’,” she says. “I mean, Will and I never did anything unless we were in the same room.”

And yet suddenly, Alison was the only person in the room.

“To begin with, it was quite daunting,” she acknowledges. “It was completely new territory for me and it felt really odd. But Röyksopp sent me over a few ideas, a few sketches, and there were a couple that I found quite interesting. I could hear myself doing something with them. After a while it became, ‘This is actually quite good’, and I started thinking about what I could do and what I wanted to do. It just grew from there.”

In the end, the alliance birthed two tracks, ‘Impossible’ and ‘The Night’, both of which appeared on Röyksopp’s acclaimed 2022 album trilogy ‘Profound Mysteries’. They were also both issued as singles. ‘Impossible’, appropriately enough, is a song about dislocation.

The experience convinced Alison she could step outside the band that had been her creative environment and, to an extent, her comfort zone for so long. She’d worked with other musicians earlier in her career – not least Orbital and Tricky – but always as a guest vocalist, not a prime collaborative artist.

“There’s a synchronicity in working closely with people that brings out something different in you,” she declares. “It gave me a new headspace, a confidence I’d never had before.”

This oozes from ‘The Love Invention’. The album is the work of an artist trying on new musical clothes and finding they fit perfectly. She’d initially intended to do an EP and had delivered five tracks to Skint.

“The record company said to me, ‘These are great. Can we have an album?’. I assumed they meant next year or something like that, but they wanted it much sooner. Sooner than I felt was humanly possible.”

To her surprise, Alison found that she responded well to the pressure of working to a short deadline, partly helped by what she calls the “good people around me”. She’s speaking about James Greenwood and Richard X, her two co-producers on ‘The Love Invention’. She’s a big admirer of the former’s Kelly Lee Owens productions, while Girls On Top studio wizard Richard X’s work with Róisín Murphy is perhaps the most appropriate reference point for the album. This is disco, but it’s a highly contemporary electronic variety of it.

“I wanted something that was very rhythmic and dancey, with elements of retro synthesiser electro. But I also wanted it to sound very modern, especially the production.”

A good example is ’Digging Deeper Now’, which pairs Alison with Claptone, the German DJ and production duo who wear medieval plague doctor masks at all times. Well, we think they wear them at all times…

“I never met them because we did everything remotely, but I kept thinking I might run into them and wondered if I’d see their faces,” she laughs. “They’re very Goldfrapp, I know, but to me they look Venetian or something. A strong look, definitely.”

Many of the tracks on ‘The Love Invention’ would seem to have double meanings, revealing her multifaceted musical tastes and her thirst for new concepts.

“When I’m writing, I start with an idea that might be really personal, but then it often mutates into a more general theme. It alternates between being real and fantasy.”

So while the lyrics of ‘Digging Deeper Now’ explore her ever-shifting status – “Everything has changed / In my head, in my heart” – they reflect the global upheaval of the last three years too.

“Everyone went through a lot of changes,” she considers. “I did, personally and in my work life, but I think everyone went through a sort of metamorphosis. So it’s about looking inside and finding out what’s happening. When you create something, you’re trying to peel back the layers and look deeper. For me, writing is like I’m trying to reach some other place, some kind of Utopia.”

This is also what drives ‘The Beat Divine’, the first track she recorded with Richard X and almost a manifesto. She says it’s about “the idea of music and dancing as this other being”.

The insistent ‘NeverStop’ similarly appears to address notions of change, human connections and spells of contemplation during lockdown, hence the lines, “How do you see yourself? / How do you imagine the world around you?”.

“There’s also a lot of humour in the song,” she insists. “I like the idea that there’s a therapist asking that question and then this character is going, ‘Well, I can sort of see this happening”.

Has she ever had therapy?

“I’ve never been to a therapist, no. That’s not the sort of thing they’d ask, but they might do if you were going to write a film script or something…”

Alison can frequently be every bit as mysterious and elusive in interviews as she is in her videos and her stage shows. I’ve been told beforehand not to ask her any personal questions and while I largely respect that, I know she never gives much away anyhow. As she sings on the title track of ‘The Love Invention’, “You can be anything you want”, a line that seems to sum up her shapeshifting unknowability, which is something quite rare in the world of modern pop.

Described as a “dancefloor high priestess” by her record label, it’s been a journey of continual evolution to Alison’s current incarnation. Along the way, Goldfrapp videos have portrayed her as a strict ringmistress (‘Train’), a scantily clad nurse (‘Number 1’), and even a disembodied face (‘Strict Machine’).

Alison grew up in Alton in Hampshire, the daughter of a one-time army officer, and the last time I interviewed her she told me how she’d been looked down on at the town’s convent school. She wasn’t the most academic of pupils and she was later made to leave, ending up at a local comprehensive. I wonder if this experience has driven her desire to be whatever she wants to be – whether others like it or not – but she doesn’t agree.

“I think I’ve always been like that,” she insists. “The other day, someone asked if I remembered my first-ever performance and my memory is of it being at Brownies, standing on a stage spouting out this poetry I’d written. I must have been seven or something. It was gobbledegook, but I thought it made total sense.

Apparently I’m dyslexic. I’ve always had this chameleon thing as well, you know, dressing up and thinking, ‘I’m going to be this today’. So it’s just been a natural progression.”

It hasn’t worked out too badly, although there have been a number of unexpected turns along the way. When Goldfrapp followed the blockbusting electro-glam of ‘Supernature’ with the bucolic folk of ‘Seventh Tree’, for instance.

“Financially and commercially, that was probably the most ridiculous thing to do,” admits Alison. “But you’ve got to follow your instincts, haven’t you?”

Indeed. And now those instincts have led her back to disco, which she’d first loved in her teens, at which point she was dressing like a punk but listening to Giorgio Moroder’s Donna Summer productions.

“I loved those grand melodies, the dramatic arrangements, and the beats that felt epic and euphoric,” she says. “I used to go to the local community centre disco and I remember there was this girl who always dressed like Debbie Harry. In fact, she was called Debbie. She looked so cool, but I wasn’t into the music they played there. It didn’t have enough melody for me. So I was secretly listening to groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and also to The Carpenters. Karen Carpenter’s voice just seemed unreal somehow. Very rich, but quite low. It sounded totally synthetic, like it had been manufactured.”

The seeds of Goldfrapp’s glam element had been planted before this, though. Alison’s older sisters were huge T. Rex and Roxy Music fans.

“One of my sisters wore really wild clothes and that’s how I got the whole glam thing in my head. And then there was my dad, who listened to classical music. So there was a bunch of stuff going on in our house.”

It’s not hard to see how Goldfrapp’s music ended up where it did. Alison’s love of electronic sounds came later, initially with Joy Division and then with Prince.

“I was obsessed with Prince. I was really into his sound and his production. It was just so lush.”

When she went to college, where she studied fine art, she set up a little studio in her flat. And then almost immediately disassembled it.

“I got rid of everything. I found it really intimidating having all this equipment. I thought, ‘I could be spending the next 10 years in this room’.”

Fatefully, she was spotted doing some performance art at a party by Paul and Phil Hartnoll from Orbital.

“Weird and wonderful,” she laughs. “They’d go, ‘Alison, what are you doing this afternoon?’, and I’d mosey on down to their place in Shoreditch and improvise into the microphone.”

Some of her improvisations surfaced on ‘Are We Here?’, a highlight of Orbital’s 1994 colossus, ‘Snivilisation’. A little later on, she also worked with Tricky, another once-in-a-generation artist, singing on ‘Pumpkin’ for the Bristol trip hop maverick’s 1995 album, ‘Maxinquaye’.

“I sent him this cassette of things I’d been doing,” she says. “I sent him something with my voice completely slowed down, which he liked.”

What was it like working with Tricky?

“He’s a total character,” she grins. “Really interesting. He introduced me to lots of amazing music and, you know, opened up another door for me. And he could be proper tricky! I mean, yeah, he is intense. I’ve seen him live since I was working with him and he’s incredible to watch. He’s definitely followed his own path.”

During this period, she even did some backing vocals for Bryan Ferry, witnessing the power of stardom, charisma and magnetism at unusually close quarters.

“Bryan was like, ‘I’ve got this tune… and we could do this and we could do that…’. I was like, ‘Er, yeah, OK’. Then he stood in front of me and started singing and doing those moves that he does… and I was all, ‘Oh my god! It’s fucking Bryan Ferry!’. It was like I’d suddenly realised it was actually him and I was completely starstruck. I became really nervous and wobbly and I couldn’t talk. I remember being stunned by what a beautiful voice he has. Hearing it in that room with no effects and seeing those moves…”

Alison Goldfrapp first met Will Gregory in 1999 and the pair had signed a deal with Mute by the end of the year. The rest, as they say, is history. The way that Goldfrapp operated wasn’t always spontaneous, though.

“Some things would come quickly, but other times we’d have an idea and keep coming back to it, or we’d spend a lot of time doing the arrangement.”

Which is in stark contrast to Alison’s more recent practice as a solo artist.

“I think working more quickly has been really good for me,” she says.

It’s interesting that it’s taken her so long to produce a solo album. Is it easier knowing that she already has an audience, or does feeling that she has to live up to what she’s done before bring its own pressures?

“A bit of both. Absolutely. I suppose you think, ‘Everybody will say I’m mad’. They’ll be asking, ‘Why is she doing that?’. So, yeah, a bit of both.”

She’s into her third decade as a performer now. Has she noticed lots of changes during that time?

“Even since 2017, I think the situation has changed a lot,” she ponders, referring to the six-year period since Goldfrapp’s ‘Silver Eye’ album. “It’s very hard for singers and musicians to make money. Other things have vastly improved, though. All in all, it’s much healthier.”

What sort of things?

“I love Instagram and the direct contact you can have with fans. And I can go onto Spotify and listen to anything, anywhere in the world. There’s far less snobbery about music now, with different genres all fusing together. I love that. I think that’s a much more exciting way to be.”

Is it a better time for women to be making music than it was when she started out?

“Yes. There are a lot of great female artists who are speaking their mind. Taylor Swift is quite incredible in that respect. Very intelligent. But it would still be nice to see more females in the technical areas – in the studio, behind the mixing desks… those sort of things.”

Another major change, she believes, is that journalists can no longer get away with saying or asking things they did even just a few years ago. She recalls one particularly eye-watering incident, when a European interviewer told her, “You and Will Gregory are like that Pet Shop Boys song – ‘I’ve got the brains / You’ve got the looks / Let’s make lots of money…” She is still aghast today – and rightly so.

“I remember thinking, ‘So which one of us are you saying has the brains and which one has the looks?’.

You know, ‘What am I being told here?’.”

On another occasion she was asked, “Do you think you should be wearing short skirts at the age of 40?”.

“They were quite aggressive about it. Like, you know, ‘What the fuck are you doing wearing that?’. There have been all sorts of crazy things like that. I’d say people are generally far more respectful these days.”

Alison is now 57, but she seems to be very much a part of the current musical firmament. Is the industry less ageist than it used to be?

“Well, it’s funny because when I see people on ‘Top Of The Pops’ from the 1970s, they always look younger than I remember them when I was a kid,” she reflects. “I suppose it’s because everyone seemed older then. I was singing in this band when I first started out and there was another singer who was much younger than me. I was 25 and she was going, ‘You’re not going anywhere, you’re 25!’. So it was a sanction already. I always clung to the fact that Debbie Harry was well into her 30s when she became successful.

“We do seem to live in a society where you become invisible once you hit a certain age. Male, female, whatever. I suppose that’s why Madonna gets flak, but it’s great she’s out there. It’s the same with The Rolling Stones, although it’s like they have managed to change the rules. But it’s especially pleasing that women aren’t being criticised for it as much as they were 30 years ago.”

‘The Love Invention’ is a very clubby record. Does she still go clubbing?

“Is it that clubby?” she asks. “There are pop influences there too. To answer your question, I like being outside, so I don’t go to clubs much actually. I never really did. Well, apart from one stint. There’s something extraordinarily life-affirming and joyous about dancing with a lot of people, but my idea of a good place to dance, a good place to party, would be on a beach.”

We’ve been talking for about an hour and Alison’s PR appears on mute in the Zoom window, giving me a silent nudge that I should be asking my last few questions. The last time I interviewed her, it was over a couple of bottles of wine in a restaurant and the conversation went on for ages.

The world is totally different now, but it’s not just the Zoom format that makes everything seem more formal. With Alison’s PR sitting in on the call and monitoring proceedings, it makes me curious to know whether navigating modern celebrity – with all its infringements and invasions – necessitates keeping lots of things at arm’s length, so the person behind the music is able to remain guarded and protected.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” she replies. “Has it been deliberate? Well, I don’t think I’m particularly famous, so it’s probably been quite easy. But I have recently joined TikTok, so maybe everything will change!”
She chuckles and then evades the question to tell me that she likes to lose herself in visuals.

“Visuals are something that excite me. I feel like they’re a big part of what I’m doing. And I’ve worked with Mat Maitland for a very long time. When I was making the music, I could really see myself in his visual world.”

She goes on to talk about how pleased she is to be touring again – she’s hitting the festivals this summer and playing North and South America next year – and how the closing track of ‘The Love Invention’, the dreamy, sensual and slower ‘SLoFLo’, represents another radical departure for her. She hints at there being more solo records to come too.

While still conscious of the request not to ask any personal questions, I’m determined to take away one thing – however small – about Alison’s life beyond the music business. Does she, for instance, have any hobbies?

“I love staring out of the window,” she states in an obvious deflection, turning to the left, seemingly to stare out of an actual window. “I think that’s very important…”

She pauses for a moment or two, apparently to reconsider her answer.

“That is a good question,” she allows. “At the moment, I’m not doing a lot other than working. I’ve got 3,000 sleeves to sign, so presently I’m surrounded by boxes and they’ve got to be done by Thursday. Anyway, where were we? OK, I do a lot of exercise – pilates and the gym – and I love walking. As I said, I like being in nature. Somebody once asked me how I cope with living in London. I cope by leaving it a lot.”

She roars with laughter and then suddenly submits another tiny snippet about her life away from music.

“Oh, I do have a new hobby… I like ping-pong,” she reveals, explaining that she got into it during lockdown because it was easy to play outside. “I love it. I even took some lessons in the end, so now I’m pretty good.”

And after 75 minutes of verbal to-and-fro, it’s not difficult to imagine that ping-pong is something Alison Goldfrapp is more than pretty good at.

‘The Love Invention’ is out on Skint

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