Why has Goldfrapp’s “Rocket” failed to achieve lift-off?

The official UK Top 75 was published tonight, and where once you may have expected to see Goldfrapp’s latest lead single nestled among the high achievers and new entries of the Top 40, it was nowhere to be seen. Instead, you have to trace your finger some forty-seven spots down the list to find the British duo of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp with “Rocket,” the lead single from forthcoming fifth LP Head First.

What could be the reason for this, one might ask. Single no good? Goldfrapp fallen out of favour with the masses? The truth, it would seem, is rather more prosaic – promotion.

Or lack thereof. Goldfrapp have been conspicuous by their absence as far as high-profile radio and TV appearances go. There have been five-minute interview spots on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour and the ill-fated BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne show, but oddly the most high-profile appearance of the lot, a scheduled slot on BBC1’s Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, is pencilled in for two weeks’ time – not only after the single release, but after the release of the album too.

Then there’s the video. Given a comparatively small budget, the video took longer than expected to edit and polish and as such only arrived perilously close to the single release itself, meaning it didn’t have enough time to lodge itself in the playlists of music channels. Of course, this promotion is at least something, and it’s a lot better than a lot artists will get: a video? An appearance on BBC1’s flagship chat show? I’ll take that, thanks! But when you’re Goldfrapp, and you have a history of critically-acclaimed and commercially successful records, it does strike a rather odd note.

If we forget the promotion aspect for a moment, then let’s turn our attentions to the idea that maybe, just maybe, “Rocket” is not the sort of single that’s going to get Goldfrapp a decent hit. It’s certainly been divisive among the duo’s fan base. But why? ’80s synths are in! The ’80s in general are in! But, ultimately, who cares what’s “in”? It’s the music that matters, and in fifteen or twenty years’ time, no one’s going to care whether something was “in” or not. It’s an underestimation of the buying public that they will only buy what’s in fashion at the time. No, Goldfrapp have always been somewhat ahead of the curve, so to speak. “Rocket,” though, appears to come off the back of the rise of electro pop females like La Roux, Little Boots, and Ladyhawke; that’s not to suggest that Goldfrapp were influenced by those artists (“Rocket” is more indebted to early ’80s disco and Van Halen’s “Jump”), but culturally this time it appears that they’re not really setting any trends.

Musically, though, “Rocket,” while comparatively lightweight in the context of some other Goldfrapp songs, is a jubilant pop gem. It has Goldfrapp’s simplest and most accessible hook to date, winning humour in its sentiment (“oh oh oh I got a rocket / oh oh oh you’re going on it / oh oh oh you’re never coming back”), and stabbing synth lines that sound as if they’ve been thrown in a time capsule circa 1984 and only just opened, wide-eyed and curious, now. It’s joyous and carefree, and it’s a refreshing change of pace to hear the duo approach something as light-hearted and easygoing as a lead single – compared to, say, the cold glam stomp of “Ooh La La” or the earnest sleaze of “Train.”

Somehow, though, it’s not caught on. BBC Radio 1 have played it the grand total of once, and it’s stalled outside the Top 40 on the national airplay chart in the run-up to its physical release. Perhaps the ’80s aren’t as back in as we think. Or maybe “Rocket” is too close to pastiche, rather than a contemporary update. For all its warmth and joy, you couldn’t proclaim it as particularly ‘cool.’ That said, the forthcoming Head First looks set to be an engaging throwback with less of the cheese and more of the old Goldfrapp magic.

Time will tell whether one comparative flop single signals the reversal of Goldfrapp’s commercial fortunes. They have a core following for their unique fusion of electronic, pop, and ambient styles, and are known for their fearless tweaking of their sound on each album. When Head First is released next week, it will be interesting to see how it fares, especially in light of the failure to achieve lift-off of this particular “Rocket.”

For all its detractors and for all its division of the Goldfrapp fanbase, though, “Rocket” is still a delirious pop delight. And we’re lucky to have a duo as inventive, fresh, and sophisticated as Gregory and Goldfrapp delivering high-quality pop five albums and ten years in. In time, who knows, “Rocket” may just achieve that so-far elusive lift-off.


Filed under: Culture, Music, Pop, , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. shad says:

    Alternatively, it may just be that these days, established acts simply don’t require the same level of promotion for the lead single to sell the same number of album units. Mute probably looked at Depeche Mode’s figures from last year – the first single, “Wrong”, peaked at #24 after minimal UK promotion – their worst-performing lead single for 23 years – and this had no effect on performance of the album, which peaked at #2, their best chart position since 1997.

  2. mbbarton says:

    Good point. I think you’re right – the album is much more important than the single to both Goldfrapp and Mute, I would think, and as you say, with an established act, a big “hit” isn’t as important as it would be to perhaps a new artist. I have every confidence that Head First will perform well on the charts; it’s just interesting after the last two lead singles went Top 10 for this one to miss the Top 40.

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