RELEASED ON THE same day in the U.S. as Madonna's hilarious Cher parody, Music, and Björk's brilliant but curiously unfocused Selmasongs, Alison Goldfrapp's solo debut occupies a position no less distinguished, despite her relative obscurity. Easily eclipsing Goldfrapp's numerous former employers and collaborators, Orbital and Tricky included, the English vocalist and composer/arranger/
keyboardist Will Gregory lay claim to an epic sonic panorama informed by film soundtracks, classical music, and cabaret songs. Unlike her two single-name colleagues, Goldfrapp also seems to be involved in a conversation with the actual times in which we live.
The album's copiously tasteful electronics and Gregory's lush string and horn arrangements provide an expert balance of chilly and warm, and are a fitting backdrop for Goldfrapp's voice, a remarkable instrument that can make the words brown paper bag seem sexy. (She's an accomplished whistler, too.) Goldfrapp's lyrical approach tends toward the dreamy, even as her imagery seeps between the cracks of consciousness, evoking an endless succession of starry nights in which beauty and danger intermingle freely and things are never necessarily what they seem to be. Questions of identity are particularly shadowy herein. On "Human," Goldfrapp observes, "They fall/From your mouth/Propelled by your belly and your tongue/I shiver when you shake/And I fold into jelly/I think I loved you more than me/Are you human?/Or a dud?/Are you human?/Or did you make it up?" This feel of futuristic noir is sweet enough to make Tahiti 80 seem like Korn--and dark enough to make Korn seem like Tahiti 80.
Ultimately, Felt Mountain's greatest strength lies in the fact that it succeeds in being unabashedly beautiful, relentlessly romantic, and overwhelmingly seductive at a time when no one with the guts to have a go at such a project has the brains to back up such an attempt. Three months from now, 25 percent of the copies of Music sold to date will have found their way into the used bins, at least once. Selmasounds will occupy a place on the shelf of dusty honor, right next to the expensive boxed sets of import CD singles. But if enough units of Felt Mountain find their way into people's hot little hands, we just might see a little spike in the birth rate come this time next year.