Fifty Shades of Gold
By Paul Flynn
Photography by Annemarieke van Drimmelen
Less than 10 minutes into our chat in a chic Parisian hotel lobby, Alison Goldfrapp is expressing woes about her interviewing skills. “Sorry, I’m crap at talking about this,” she says, referring to the broad-church topics of sexuality and gender she’s been asked to discuss. “It kind of annoys me when I’m made to think like that. Our sexuality’s so complex that to define it in black and white just seems ludicrous, really.”
But whether she thinks it or not, the singer is slyly fantastic on these subjects, teasing their borders into intricate musical sentences. She has a keen ear for offbeat, intimate narratives, both in songs and in life. She recalls how after watching the film Elles, she was haunted by the image of Juliette Binoche reaching the outer limits of masturbatory pleasure. “I keep getting flashbacks of it and thinking, Wow, is that scene a bit over the top? They made her look quite pasty, almost as if she were going to throw up at any moment. But I love Juliette Binoche. I’ll watch anything with her in it.”
The question of sexuality and identity is all over Tales of Us, the sixth studio album from Goldfrapp, the duo she formed with keyboardist Will Gregory in 1999. The record is a third-person suite of bold, chilling stories with a cool, noir cast. A girlfriend runs from her homicidal partner through the Hollywood Hills. Two male soldiers are caught in a moving clash with love and mortality that packs its own military heat. (“Really?” she deadpans in response to the remark. “I hadn’t noticed that.”). In “Annabel,” the titular intergender child is asked the question his/her parents most need answered, but which Annabel cannot oblige. The tales become touchstones for deeper reflections on the passing of time and the deceptive nature of memory. Her take: “They’re just stories I found moving.” You can hear it.