Goldfrapp never fails to deliver when it comes to creating brilliantly ethereal pop songs. Their sixth album, Tales of Us, is a throwback to their aurally mesmeric debut, Felt Mountain. Emphasizing the softer side of the duo, the electronic vibe is noticeably lacking on this release. And, of course, the other glaring fact of this album is that each song is named after someone with a mononym (Ulla, Drew, Annabel, etc.). The nature of these one-word titles is a testament to the simplicity and stripped down style of Tales of Us. And, although there are some Goldfrapp listeners who may be disappointed by this, it's nice to see the duo return to their original roots--and actually end up topping themselves.
The lush tone of the album is established with "Jo," a sonorous symphony that showcases Alison Goldfrapp's steadied vocals as she croons, "Where the wind sings by the river/Laughing, broken/Hair swept out into the river, ripples of black/Run, you better run, you better run for your life." The melancholic tinge of this track transitions beautifully into "Annabel," a vivid account of a girl with a tragic story, set to the eerie backdrop of an acoustic guitar. Haunting lyrics elucidate a sense of longing that this British chanteuse has mastered with the utmost of ease. In between singing, "When you dream, you only dream you're Annabel/All the secrets there inside you, Annabel/Bound beneath an emerald sky... Nothing that they did will stop you, Annabel," Goldfrapp hums in an ominous lilt. The subsequent track, "Drew," is the first single from the album, which, as previously mentioned, sounds like a sequel to "A&E."
Next up is "Ulla," a decidedly European sounding track that mirrors the foreign feminine name. It's something you might hear in a bar/lounge secreted in some obscure alley in Paris. The most acapella of the songs on Tales of Us, "Ulla" reveals the beauty and richness of Alison Goldfrapp's voice. Posing the somewhat arbitrary question, "Are you human or a dog?/Are you human or do you make it up?", Goldfrapp provokes the thought that perhaps we're not as human--or superior--as we'd like to believe. The acoustic heavy "Alvar," possesses a sinister air with its constant and earnest guitar strumming. Like the other songs on the album, its beat is a reflection of the person's name after which it is called. Throughout the song, it sounds as though it is building to some grander crescendo, but never quite does.
"Thea" follows "Alvar" with a more upbeat ambience. The closest they get to sounding even remotely electronic on this album, "Thea" warrants at least a subtle sway on the dance floor. "Simone" slows the vibe down so that, once again, Alison Goldfrapp can wield her carefully controlled vocals to send a chill up your spine. "Stranger"--the only song that deviates from the mononym motif--has hints of an homage to folk singers past (think Joan Baez). Of course, a folk sounding song by Goldfrapp standards is still highly pop influenced. The singer's usual modus operandi, humming incoherently, is present on this track as well.
The second to last track, "Laurel," is one of the more piano-heavy offerings on Tales of Us, and also sees Alison Goldfrapp singing in a much lower pitch. Echoing the prostitute-like tale of The Police's "Roxanne," she drones, "Searching for love, a wild side/The price is right/You're smiling for love." The sinister backbeat could also fit easily in a Godard movie or a scene of intrigue in Twin Peaks. To close the album, Goldfrapp opts for "Clay" (a name which only conjures images of Less Than Zero), a mostly optimistic sounding song that puts a finite cap on the tales of the multi-faceted people we were introduced to on this album.