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Album Review

Working out an old sound

March 22, 2010

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‘A place nobody dared to go.’’ When Olivia Newton-John sang that lyric 30 years ago, it was about a magical, roller skate-friendly land called Xanadu. But in subsequent years, Newton-John’s brand of middle-of-the-road disco was another place that nobody dared to go. What artist would want to venture into Newton-John’s soundtrack for suburban aerobic classes?

Alison Goldfrapp is clearly not afraid to put on her legwarmers and pay a visit to this territory, because “Head First’’ bears an uncanny resemblance to Olivia circa her “Heart Attack’’ and “Twist of Fate’’ eras. It’s not unusual for Goldfrapp and her musical partner, Will Gregory, to swap genres. The British duo have proven quite adept at playing pop hopscotch through styles ranging from down-tempo after-hours music to sexy, throbbing dance beats. What is surprising, however, is that they would now wander into a forest of Huey Lewis synthesizers and T’Pau-like lyrics.

That’s not to say that “Head First’’ isn’t oddly absorbing — particularly for friends of Olivia. “Believer’’ and “Alive’’ are the kind of songs that attach to your brain like a musical tapeworm and refuse to relent. Goldfrapp eventually returns to the 21st century and teases with a hint of its tarted-up electro-pop on “Shiny and Warm.’’ But for a band that has proven itself to be fearless, the idea of becoming hopelessly devoted to adult contemporary-friendly dance music is either the bravest — or craziest — move of its decade-long career. (Out tomorrow)

CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

Pop
Goldfrapp Head First
Mute
ESSENTIAL “Shiny and Warm’’