Let’s be honest. We’re not exactly short of bands evoking the early-mid 80’s period of synth pop. Woman’s Hour are the latest to try their hand at this style but there’s something different about them from the outset and their reference points seem unusual; blending the sophisticated synth pop of early Pet Shop Boys (particularly their song ‘Love Comes Quickly’) and the comforting, nocturnal glamour of Sade. This description may not set pulses racing but this is a band who never over-exert themselves; retaining a detached cool throughout this confident yet never overbearing debut.
From the first impressions of ‘Unbroken Sequence’, Woman’s Hour could be compared to bored, lovelorn students but then hit on the required urgency for a strident chorus. The title track is content to simmer; it’s a quiet murmur of a song but one which sums up the elegant despair of the album as a whole and for the album’s first single, ‘To The End’, they marry sadly-spoken lyrics of absolute commitment (“Take everything you know and go with me to the end”) with the kind of simple, understated electronica more commonly found on The Wake’s albums. Similar levels of romantic obsession are captured on the perfectly-titled ‘Devotion’ and here the innocence and fragility of the words (“When you’re gone I feel empty. Need your love to surround me.”) are given further strength by Fiona Burgess’s doomed, helpless tones. The effect is stunning in a subtle way.
The nearest Woman’s Hour come to a busy modern production is on the closing ‘The Day That Needs Defending’ and in a rare break from melancholy, ‘In Stillness We Remain’ has a lightness of touch and a suggestion of happiness but this is arguably the least interesting song on the record too. Thankfully, the dip is followed by the best moment, where ghostly “ooh ooh” harmonies, a steadily insistent bassline and the detached yet involving vocals of Burgess dovetail to perfection.
Some might dismiss this music as too mannered and there are times when ‘Conversations’ treads an uneasy line between understated sophistication and boredom. Yet one feels that, rather like The XX, Woman’s Hour have considered every move they make with their less is more approach and it would be fair to say that the more desolate they sound, the better they actually are.
Pet Shop Boys, Sade, The XX, The Wake