Sooner or later the ’90s had to return, and not fast enough for Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. Their fourth album, Seventh Tree, perfects the boutique electronica in which they’ve specialized since 2000; if silvery female mumbles atop beds of keyboards is your thing, then you can put away that Sneaker Pimps record. The rest of us can mumble about the dubious pleasure of Goldfrapp’s taxidermy, especially when the likes of Roisin Murphy have shaken off embalmment and realized that “pretty” oxidizes into “fusty” when you’re listening with your ears instead of your feet.
This whole thing sounds great, though: rue, clenched fists, and closed eyes mixed at an arena pitch. “Cologne Cerrone and Houdini” isn’t a Green Gartside number, but the best example of what Goldfrapp almost gets away with, thanks to rain-cloud synth strings and the almost creepy way in which Alison seems to coo with nary a wrinkle showing around the cheeks. “Eat Yourself” digests the pinched melancholy of Portishead circa 1995, complete with pseudo vinyl-scratch sound effects. But any one of these tracks could stand the more arresting sonic finery of 2006’s “Ride on a White Horse,” whose insistent hook compensated for an anonymity the duo was too cool to challenge.
It’s tempting to think that this regressive product might be transgressive—while Kylie, Britney, and Roisin twist themselves into ever more beguiling aural contortions, here’s Alison and Will making like Everything But the Girl in 1996. But the tunes aren’t there, and neither is Alison: She’s committed to a kind of performative absentee balloting, wherein we note her name on the credits but wonder what—who—she is. The next Gallup poll must find out what constituency she represents.