From the opening electronic beats of “Crystalline Green”, it was obvious that Goldfrapp’s sophomore album was not going to be a retread of their well received debut. Gone is the epic glacier of sound that represented Felt Mountain, with Black Cherry being something more, a tinnier and grimier sound more attuned to the body (specifically the pelvic region) rather than the higher functions of the brain. It’s dirtier, it’s seedier, it’s sexier even. Songs like “Train” and in particular “Strict Machine” not only floor you, but then drag you to the club whether you want to go or not.
Yes, despite Felt Mountain being created by a group you would have thought it impossible to dance to, Black Cherry is a quite different beast. The fragile beauty of their debut is not totally abandoned though, as the title track proves to be the album’s best number, mixing in the slow beats and sweeping strings of the previous album with an utterly enchanting vocal performance from Ms Goldfrapp. Okay it doesn’t have the bump and grind elements of much of what is on offer here, but it has something more cerebral, more intimate, and an emotional resonance which has meant that has become a personal favourite of mine.
Despite Alison Goldfrapp projecting the image of a woman who is subservient to no one (indeed she flirted with borderline dominatrix imagery around the time of this album), a tip of the hat should go to her silent partner in crime Will Gregory, who despite shying away from the limelight and media brouhaha, proves himself to be a vital collaborator for Ms Goldfrapp. Such a radical change of sound following such a unique debut was a brave move, but it was perhaps necessary to ensure that Goldfrapp didn’t become just another slow beat electronica group, so whether it was suggested by either Gregory, Goldfrapp herself, or both of them, it gave them another string to their bow, and catapulted them further up the radio playlists.
Quite where Goldfrapp fitted into the grand scheme of things around the era of Black Cherry was a matter of minor debate at the time. Uniting electronica, dance and pop with an almost arrogant ease, they were somewhat more mature than a lot of the acts who were creating similar material around the same time, but they proved themselves to be masters of the art, indeed it’s worth noting that the Kylie Minogue album released a little while after Black Cherry owed a huge debt to Goldfrapp and Gregory, and that got some of the best reviews of Kylie’s career.
In retrospect, Black Cherry is one of the strongest albums of Goldfrapp’s career, effortlessly bridging the subtle electronica soundscapes of Felt Mountain with the full on disco pop of Supernature. There was a risk that it might fall into the void of being neither one thing or the other, but Goldfrapp and Gregory were just too canny for that to be the case, ensuring that Black Cherry managed to do both without compromise.