Alison GoldfrappThe ethereal vocals of Alison Goldfrapp are hear for you aural pleasure.

Ooooh it’s here! It’s here !  The ethereal vocals of Alison Goldfrapp that can only mean  a new Goldfrapp album. Check out  the  trailer for the long awaited new Goldfrapp album Tales Of Us.  This has been 2 years in the making and it is their most narrative, cinematic and intimate recording to date.

Goldfrapp have spent the last decade trying on different outfits, never really letting anything stick long enough to see if it was a good look. It’s a strategy that pays off as often as it turns out distracting: they’ve struck gold (the sensual disco of Supernature), they’ve fallen flat (2008’s snoozeworthy Seventh Tree), and they’ve stumbled admirably (the uneven 80s pastiche of Head First). But on Tales of Us, their sixth album, they return to the sound of the album that originally made them famous, 2000’s fantastically witchy Felt Mountain. Touching on that record’s folkier side and running with it, the new record is a delicate affair every bit as fragile as the romantic themes it obsesses over. And while it’s not a full back-to-2000 affair, some of the duo’s unique imagination is replaced with a traditionalism that feels incongruous with the rest of their career.

Tales of Us, two years in gestation, was recorded in the English countryside, and it sounds like it.

You can practically hear the fog rolling through the moonlit hills. The album digs deep into an idealized concept of English folk, full of lilting melodies that could have been taken from ancient songs (or just a Renaissance fair) and production so subtle sometimes it feels like there’s nothing beyond acoustic guitar, some strings, and Alison Goldfrapp’s typically haunting vocals. When that formula works, it’s uncommonly haunting– second single “Annabel” has an icy mist hanging over it, and Goldfrapp proves more than effective in one of the more arresting moments on the album.

Her voice is more affected than it’s ever been on Tales of Us; she’s dead serious all the time. The sexuality of “Strict Machine” and the sly humour of “Rocket” are gone, and instead she intones with a cold and artificial mannerism, like she’s reading off a book of old plays. That mood isn’t lifted by the lyrics. Every song refers to a different character in some imagined universe, but the inherent melodrama is only exacerbated by the dead-serious delivery; it has all the emotional impact of a soap opera.

Of course, Goldfrapp have always been a band you could enjoy as much for aesthetics as lyrical content.

And Tales of Us is certainly pretty on its own terms, though the songs are bare bones and aren’t placid enough to achieve the attractive wintry drift of, say, Grouper. It’s not as if the LP doesn’t have its moments: on “Alvar,” subtle electronics turn the chorus into a gorgeous smear of melody, and on first single “Drew,” her anxious vocals are riveting, especially against the unsettling backdrop of quick, fingerpicked guitar and sweeping strings. These are glimpses of the typical Goldfrapp genius, but now they’re mere flashes rather than tangible entities.

Admittedly, with a few exceptions, it’s hard to find fault with many of these tracks. A few of them, like “Simone”, are simply unmemorable, but each one has its redeeming qualities. In fact, almost any of these songs would sound beautiful on their own, or make a perfect reflective interlude on any of the band’s previous albums. But presented as a whole, Tales of Us is a dreary blur of folky pretense– from a group that’s been through so many phases, one that lacks this much imagination is almost unforgivable. Diehard fans of Goldfrapp will no doubt find something to love here, but for the rest of us, it’s a thin record that doesn’t do much to prop up its skeletal frame.