Listen to this track by cinematically-inclined electronic duo and shapeshifting musical stylists Goldfrapp. It’s “Human”, the third single from their debut record Felt Mountain.
The band take their name from Alison Goldfrapp; singer, keyboardist, and lyricist. This debut won them a shortlisting for the Mercury Prize in 2000, although they were outshined by Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, as many other records were that year.
Together with keyboardist, programmer and arranger Will Gregory, the duo would evoke the sonic effects of the spacious grandeur of John Barry soundtracks of the 1960s, although with icily beautiful electronic textures to put the music squarely in the 21st century.
But, what of this song? What other elements besides those elements can be found here?
Alison Goldfrapp had laid down tracks as a vocalist with Orbital and also with Tricky by the early to mid ’90s. The band was formed when Gregory had heard an early version of this song, and the two gathered to write together, eventually signing to Mute Records. After the debut, they’d create a number of albums and singles together, each one being different from the last, stylistically speaking.
But, this one centered on Gregory’s love of late ’60s soundtrack music, particularly of the type that was made popular by the aforementioned John Barry, and also Ennio Morricone, Roy Budd, and others.
Goldfrapp’s vocals captures the similar vibe of favoured John Barry vocalist Shirley Bassey here, which was a point made by many a critic, along with a few unfavourable comparisons to Portishead, who’d blazed the trail to this cinematic approach to electronic soundscapes. But, the song would distinguish itself as a touchpoint to Goldfrapp’s state of mind at the time, with feelings of isolation seething underneath the surface of a Latin-jazz–meets-ambient-dance tune.
None of it would come off if Alison Goldfrapp couldn’t deliver the goods, vocally. And so, she does. Will Gregory’s slightly menacing strings provide a second voice that puts this tune into a certain style. Besides the stylized musical concoction that makes it such a sumptuous listen, this is a song about doubt and trust; are you human, or a dud? Are you human, or a dog? Can I trust you? Are you as you appear to be? Or will you let me down?
These are sentiments that are at the base of human experience. But, the distant coldness in the music proves it to be a question that will never be answered outside of itself.
Goldfrapp have recently released their sixth album, Tales of Us. You can buy it at Goldfrapp.com