It’s been a long time since Belgium’s Hooverphonic burst onto the ’90s trip-hop scene, releasing six albums between 1996 and 2007. On their latest U.S. release, The Night Before (originally released in 2010 in Europe), founding members Alex Callier (bass) and Raymond Geerts (guitar) return with new singer Noémie Wolfs as, together, they dip in and out of James Bond settings. Yet, the orchestral maneuvers a la John Barry and Burt Bacharach only serve as a veil, and one that can’t cover up the band’s bland reinvention of self.
Having shed its skin of vocalist Geike Arnaert and the band’s previous esoteric sensibility, Hooverphonic has abandoned its character for adult contemporary appeal. “How Can You Sleep” would fit snugly next to “Brahm’s Lullaby” if it weren’t about a couple’s quarrel. Wolfs sings, “So we argue a little / We fight a bit more / When the pain gets too much / You suddenly close the door,” before asking the title’s question.
Chock full of sweeping orchestra strings, big brass (see “Georges Café”) and slinky spy guitar, the album lacks the intrigue to capitalize on its mystery. Still, standouts include the powerful “Heartbroken” where Wolfs proclaims victory over a controlling ex and “More,” which pits Wolfs’ vocals between an ominous drum and some silky strings. Another favorite is “Norwegian Blues,” which escapes the Bond monotony via harpsichord, giving it a spirited ’60s vibe. These tracks no doubt helped the band achieve triple-platinum status overseas but even the stateside album exclusives, including a cover of Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” three live album tracks and the brand-new “Harmless Shapes,” can’t save The Night Before. The sun has seemingly set on the innovative Hooverphonic of yesteryear.