Felt Mountain, the first album from Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, was a masterful example of seduction through musical restraint. Delicate throbs of down-tempo electronica pulsed ever so gently, in the style of a tantalizing James Bond theme, an underground, spy-noir-infested cabaret or a snow queen’s spooky, shimmering castle.
Just three short years later, the UK duo banishes subtlety. Black Cherry explodes with over-the-top displays of electro-sexed desire. “Train” gallops out of the station in a cloud of grinding synths, and “Twist” sweats like a slinky disco-aerobics workout. Goldfrapp’s voice is as emotive as ever; she howls like a banshee, lets loose screams of ecstasy and emulates a robot in the throes of lust. Unfortunately, vocal distortion effects often make her rich croon sound cartoonish and thin.
It’s unfair to expect Goldfrapp to remain stylistically stagnant, but Cherry lacks Mountain‘s velvety atmospherics and emotional impact. When the pair revisits its early sounds, it shines. “Deep Honey,” a synthesized goth tune with majestic organ melodies, and the placid “Hairy Trees,” with keyboards rippling like stones thrown in a pond, possess a realness and vulnerability the rest of the album can’t match. Despite its weighty sexuality, Cherry never really delves beneath its shiny, electrified surface.