The Magnificent Tree
is a member of the four bar linkage connecting Hooverphonic's best two albums. This string of records marks a transition as the group began to distance themselves from their trip-hop origins, perhaps in effort to ditch the “Portishead's clone” badge constantly stapled to them. Whether or not they were ever successful in shedding that title is as debatable as it is dismissible, but the comparison was, at least at one point, glaringly obvious after the release of a trip-hop album in the late 90's featuring a vocally apt, fragile and sensual sounding female singer. Thus two albums later The Magnificent Tree
purposely tones down the hip-hop and electronica influences found in the instrumental side of A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular
while upping the wattage on the spotlight beaming down on singer Geike Arnaert, who replaced the original vocalist on their debut. Naturally, this led to The Magnificent Tree
taking on a much poppier approach than that seen from Hooverphonic previously.
Once the first song “Autoharp” passes, which is easily the most connective to their past and offers the deepest cut of atmosphere on the album, lead single “Mad About You” explodes into full swing. It does a fantastic job at both introducing and spearheading the new direction despite being somewhat uneventful. Geike's singing on the song is as good as can be and the sampled strings compliment it stylishly. Unfortunately all promise this song gives is squandered as the rest of the album struggles to find similar momentum and never traces back to what “Autoharp” accomplished effortlessly. There are a few nickles and dimes in the rough, but any polish they could have had is muddled by monotony, generic music and just plain poor choice of direction for most songs. Rather than the “magnificent tree” that the title suggests, the record comes off as nothing more than a skeletal, plastic sprue whose only purpose is to hold together a collection of lame pop singles cast from the same mold. It manages to barely tread water through the faint glimmers of dream pop subtleties that do provide a much more inviting sound then the darker tone of the their previous work. While Hooverphonic would eventually find success later by continuing down the path away from their trip-hop roots and towards this pop approach, The Magnificent Tree
marked the lowest point of the hanging bridge necessary to get them from peak to peak. And they still sounded like Portishead.