In this new series, we take a look back at some iconic records from the ages that hold a special place within the hearts of the LGBTQ+ community and examine just why they’re so damn great.
First up was Grace Jones’ beloved ‘Nightclubbing’ record. Take a read right here.
Date released: 23 April 2003
Best bits to dive straight into: Train, Hairy Trees, Strict Machine, Black Cherry, Crystalline Green
What makes this record so great: Black Cherry is a sweetly striking LP that cemented Goldfrapp’s talent for creating alluring electro-pop anthems for those far from faint-hearted. You’ll hear hints of glam rock, gallons of 1980’s synth and flashes of Swedish pop influences merge together to form a buzzing, biting, glittering body of work.
In a not so long ago era of early 2000’s British dance there was a hell of a lot of faceless output without much personality; think Zero 7, Air, Orbital, Groove Armada, Underworld etc. Then came along Black Cherry, the second studio album from under the radar, electronica duo Goldfrapp. The album came at a time when dance music was thriving but simultaneously disposable. This record changed that and not only made Alison Goldfrapp a frontwoman of stature and style, it was a turning point in the duo’s popularity.
Pre-Black Cherry, Goldfrapp were nominated for the Mercury Prize award for their much more subtle but equally original debut LP Felt Mountain. An album of unique, trip-hop tracks with cinematic vibes that you’ll either love or hate. Following an 18-month touring stint following its release, both Alison and Will Gregory wanted to mix up their sound…
“…We saw bands on tour that were having a great time because they were playing much more uptempo stuff and we were thinking are we missing out here? Maybe we’d enjoy ourselves a bit more if we actually got down a bit.”
So, take one dose of electroclash optimism, a measure of ambient strings, many fantastical lyrics and a heavy serving of brash synthesized riffs, oh and decorate with some punchy frothy beats and you have Black Cherry. The record is a powerful 10-track rollercoaster of synthpop wonder you’ll gladly play on repeat to digest every layer of textured sound.
The severity of electroclash runs throughout the LP; Tiptoe is a sexy track complimented by video game riffs that sound like something from a Sega Mega Drive game from the early 90’s. Twist pushes the listener’s expectations to new heights with its pulsating melody bopping along to screams and euphoric vocals, scratching at your ears not to be ignored. It’s a standout album track that acts as a warm-up for the next, the peak of the LP and arguably of Goldfrapp’s entire career thus far; Strict Machine.
Not only is Strict Machine a timeless hit; it also leaves its mark on anyone who’s ever listened to it. Alison proclaims her love for electric over and over (“Wonderful electriiiiiiiic…”) and ties in all the themes of the album; sexual fantasy, obsession, lust and glamour. The melody runs through the track relentlessly, textured by fuzzy beats and glitchy symbols that make a masterpiece of a single. Go to any Goldfrapp gig and this is the one that gets the biggest audience reaction, usually saving it till last.
Hairy Trees takes you on a fantasy ride through a dreamy landscape of hazy, fluttering harps, and softly delivered Kate Bush-esque vocals. Lyrics like “Touch my garden” and “Ride my pony / ride him slowly / smiling / all day long” suggest a more sexually liberated Goldfrapp than ever before. It’s a theme that carries through into the album’s artwork, which Alison has always had a helping hand in. The artwork, by artist Mat Maitland and photographer Polly Borland (who interestingly shot the official Golden Jubilee portrait of the Queen in 2002), shows Alison surrounded by packs of half men/half wolf creatures, dressed as the little red riding hood ringleader in the middle of it all. It’s something that was a natural progression for Alison, quoted as saying that “animals and wolves sort of come about from my interest in nature and animals symbolizing power and freedom and sexual power, and I suppose that’s what the wolf represents”.
The unpredictability of Black Cherry is another one of its USP’s. Just when you think you’re on an all dance, dark journey into Alison sensual fantasies, it surprises you again and again with hauntingly beautiful slower numbers like the positively dreamy Forever and title track Black Cherry. The latter being a fan favourite that sounds like it could be an early Eurhythmics/Visage collaboration. It combines that blatant early 1980’s synthpop influence with an ethereal Ibiza chillout mixtape vibe perfectly. The seductive lyrics are some of the best on the album, speaking of a lust that doesn’t last forever; “Excite me/ ignite me/ oh and you know/ I miss you/ I kiss you/ oh and you know.”
Thanks to the revisionism of the Goldfrapp sound and matching glamour that came with the new image, it’s no surprise Alison found herself with a whole new LGBT following that’s lasted ever since. Synthpop has always been a favourite of the gay community and along with that talent for making supreme synthpop; Alison is a captivating performer that’s helped Goldfrapp become one of the UK’s hottest acts to see on tour. For the Black Cherry tour itself, Alison wore thigh high PVC boots, a horses tail and military inspired costumes. Teaming that with burlesque dancers wearing wolf heads and eighties style neon strobe lights you’ll understand the fascination with their shows.
The album is 15 years old this year and still sounds as fresh as it’s release. The timelessness of Black Cherry leaves little to the imagination as to why it’s identity inspired artists ever since. Madonna cited them as a major inspo for her 2005 masterpiece Confessions on a Dancefloor, you can hear a lot of Goldfrapp riffs in Little Boots’ early work and even on artists on the opposite end of the spectrum like Hot Chip and Shiny Toy Guns. A short two years later they released their hotly anticipated follow-up Supernature, their most successful release to date, pushing their electropop sound further into tpublicics consciousness, breaking the international market and making Alison and Will pioneers of British underground electronica. But it all started with the dominating force of Black Cherry; a glittering example of an artists reinvention, rebirth and originality.