Hooverphonic return with an album of experienced ambient pop, with a surprisingly pleasant-sounding new voice on board.
The Night Before marks Hooverphonic coming off a decade of well-regarded releases by adding a singer with no previous musical experience. Opening cut "Anger Never Dies" shows newcomer Noémie Wolfs to have a reasonably skilled voice. It's somewhere between the riot-girl stomp of Shirley Manson and the lilting, plaintive tones of Dolores O'Riordan.
She takes that combination and manages to make it a fine accompaniment to tracks that cover a wide range of styles. Opening "AngerNeverDies" paints a ballad-drenched-in-epic-swells picture, including some "Fool On The Hill" referentialism peppering the track. It's a fine little nod that manages to come off as appreciative rather than derivative. Later on with "Heartbroken" Wolfs affects a respectable rendition of the classic angst-ridden torch singer motif. Really, you can just about see her in the sequin-adorned red dress singing on top of the piano to an enraptured audience. It ends a bit abruptly, but nothing a live rendition with a little tweaking couldn't fix.
The sonics sound a bit too like Garbage on the gently thumping weeper "More", even if one could call it Garbage-sounding, yet de-fanged. Once again they seem too focused on not letting any song overstay its welcome, as this track too feels like it comes to an abrupt end, where a more gradual coda would have made it more satisfying overall. "Georges Cafe" takes a dive into spacey ambient textures that paint an evocative picture, where once again the sequined-dress-clad singer comes to mind, singing at a supper club in an era long gone by. The music itself is equal parts upbeat strings and horns, layered atop a synth line perfectly dreamy to match the rest of the production. The songs-ending-abruptly trap comes again in the gently strolling "Identical Twin", which takes them back to more straightforward shoegazer-pop territory. Not a bad place to go, but it sets up a lush musical experience that ends too quickly, much the same as other similarly short tracks on this album do.
The closing three-piece of this disc solves that minor slip-up with tracks like the plaintive "How Can You Sleep". It's yet another moment where Wolfs teeters on the edge of sounding too much like Garbage, but manages the balancing act well enough to not fall into that trap. It doesn't hurt that the song itself plays like a cozy lullaby, albeit a cozy lullaby with pained, anguished lyrics. Strings are once again employed -- and here they create an almost funereal vibe -- and they are perfect for a track lamenting a relationship in turmoil, really. Final track "Danger Zone" easily puts itself out there as a would-be Bond movie theme and a fine way to wrap the album up.
What sets this album apart is the vulnerability. Some might call that a strange compliment, but in an age of vocalists both female and male who are Auto-tuned within an inch of their life or spiffed up with double tracking and over-use of effects, it is refreshing to hear a band sound like Hooverphonic does here. The vocals are accomplished but bearing the ragged edges of a newcomer -- ragged edges that give it character -- and the music shows the chops they've honed over years of playing together. All this makes for a release that is not a timeless classic, but worthwhile in its own right.