Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory's sixth album is a huge stylistic leap away from their previous release, 'Head First'. Much less immediate than anything they've brought out since 'Felt Mountain', the subtle, seductive, understated 'Tales of Us' is nevertheless also possibly their most rounded and satisfying album to date.
Anyone expecting the poptastic sparkle of 'Head First' or the crunching Eurobeats of 'Supernature' will be bored to death. These are slow, reflective, late-night songs, whose sonic landscape is dominated by acoustic guitar, piano and lush, symphonic strings. Will Gregory's electronica is buried deep in the mix, contributing mainly at the level of texture and atmosphere. The producion is warm and velvety, but still with an edge of dark, slightly pervy menace. Alison Goldfrapp's smouldering vocals are a breathy delight, dripping with deep honey, and still capable of running an icy finger down your spine when she hits the higher registers.
So, the album sounds great, but what's probably most impressive about 'Tales of Us' is the lyrical sophistication of the songwriting, which is a quantum leap ahead of anything in Goldfrapp's earlier canon. The songs operate as oblique, crepuscular character sketches of broken, damaged demi-mondaine men and women. Across the span of the album they cohere together into the aural equivalent of some kind of a Euro film-noir - an impression further reinforced by the cinematic sweep of the music. It's an album that unfolds slowly, and which demands patience and close attention, but which won't let go once it has you in its sinister grip.