Each stop is lush and gorgeous as you get off the plane; each stay becomes increasingly uncomfortable the longer you're there.
Blue Wonder Power Milk is one long, cosmopolitan, spy-movie travelogue.
It takes you from Battersea to a one-way ride; from Club Montepulciano to Eden. It's sleek and moderne like James Bond's latest ride; urbane like his cocktail; and not a hair out of place, like his coif. "One Way Ride" has synths that undulate like a new day rising on Pago Pago. Even the vocals sound inviting, as if emanating from your friendly, helpful tour guide. Really a nice track ... and then you listen to what the voice is saying: "Concentrate. You're in the middle of this one-way ride. In the center lays the key to get back. ... If you've come to solve this riddle, I'm afraid you'll have to stay." Not even your American Express card is gonna get you out of this one. She seems like a nice-enough gal, who's probably just fuckin' with ya.
And so Blue Wonder Power Milk progresses. Each stop lush and gorgeous as you get off the plane; each stay increasingly uncomfortable the longer you visit and the more often you pop in. New singer Geike Arnaert leads you into this trip-pop huh?topia like Julie your Cruise Director. Or is that Julee Cruise -- The Director? Her diffuse style of crooning seems to be, as Greil Marcus noted in his suggestive piece "The Deadly Suck of Hooverphonic," "constructed out of secrets the listener is supposed to decode." Or maybe she doesn't have a secret at all. Because her singing is so gentle, she seems like a nice-enough gal, who's probably just fuckin' with ya. Either way, you long for something direct, something to-the-point from her, which is what makes her songs so itchy.
And, nine tracks in, you get "This Strange Effect" which, given how it follows "Electro Shock Faders" and "Out of Tune," looks like one of those technophile Stereolab titles. But, nay, it's merely (and thankfully), Arnaert's most straightforward lyric. Coiling around a broken quote of the Bond theme, Arnaert sings so sweetly: "You've got this strange effect on me and I like it. You make my world seem right. You make my darkness bright, oh yes." The words are so simple, so free of ambiguities, that you think this has to be a trap.
Well, it is. Sure, it reads well enough, but it's a siren's song. She sings the verse in such a high range that it comes out sickeningly sweet, like one of those gross marshmallow Peeps that you can't stand to eat anymore once you've passed puberty. It's difficult to take what's she's singing at face value. And her "oh yes" recalls the sardonic "oh" that disfigured the quote from T.S. Eliot's renowned "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in the Bangles' "Dover Beach." We inch closer, but, deep down, we know it ain't gonna be good.
So what do Hooverphonic have to hide? What is this secret, if indeed, there even is one? Only their remixers know for sure. Listen to the twelve-inch single of "Club Montepulciano" and hear how the Funk Remix doesn't funk that much or how artsy and user-unfriendly the 808 State remix sounds. Then listen to some Olive singles or Armand Van Helden's mix of the Sneaker Pimps' "Spin Spin Sugar" and learn that they were all dance-floor smashes and the latter is even said to have sparked an entire subgenre (that's speed garage, for you stay-at-homes).
Now go back to the album and listen to the Residential "Dictionary": "Won't you be my dictionary? Won't you translate fun into something necessary?" I'm of the mind that, of life's major necessities, fun is up there with food, shelter and fucking. Hooverphonic seem to think it's pointless. Maybe their secret, then, is that they're praying you don't take their trip as pop. Their refusal to let some spin spin sugar help the dystopia go down starts to sound like snootiness rather than mystery across the length of an album.
Then again, that word in "Dictionary" may not even be "fun." One class I flunked in Rock Critic School was Lyric Deciphering. But is that my fault? As Marcus noted, Hooverphonic's songs are "so airy, so indistinct, [they] beckon you to play [them] again and again." After four or five spins, I found myself playing it again and again only to finish this review. Tuneful though many of these tracks are, you can only take so much of someone dangling an airy, indistinct secret in your face before you either find your attention flagging or you tell them to fuck off. And that's not the deadly suck Marcus had in mind.
By Kevin John
Sonicnet.com Rating: 4
Readers' Rating: 5