Album review: Niki & the Dove – Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now was released a week before the untimely, utterly unbelievable death of superstar Prince. Niki & the Dove could never deny the influence, and their love, of the funk genius. Their name alone alludes to two massive Prince song titles and the lead track here, ‘So Much It Hurts’, even explicitly name checks ‘Thieves in the Temple’.

Their debut album Instinct made reference to earlier Paisley Park sounds but also threw in several, more eclectic and jagged tracks like ‘DJ Ease My Mind’ – big electronic house tunes that were more in-keeping with dance festivals and contemporary updates of decades-old dance music. Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now is a departure from this sound, at least. The mood is mellow throughout and nostalgic to the core. Prince’s presence is felt throughout but he isn’t the only ghost haunting the Stockholm-based duo’s heart.

The simultaneously jittery and luxuriously laidback ‘Play It on My Radio’ uses Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ as a kind of sonic template. The warm and full sound of plush synths and twitchy percussion was the soundtrack of 1984 MTV and also the musical touchstone of Tegan and Sara’s major pop awaking on 2013’s Heartthrob – yet more confirmation of an era that warrants constant craving.

Niki & the Dove are sincere and open about their longing for another time, about trying to find a song on the radio that nobody plays anymore. There is reference to human connections that have gradually faded through generations (‘people looked so different then, because they were smiling’) and happiness that can only be reignited by your favourite song. It’s a beautiful, warming melody that also cements the duo’s sonic transition here. It takes time to take hold but you’ll keep coming back until it does.

Elegant disco handclaps with fluid bass-lines and a jittering chic guitar come together to serenade complete heartbreak on the sumptuous ‘You Stole My Heart Away’. Malin Dahlström sounds perplexed and defensive whilst delivering one of dance music’s greatest tragic scenarios: ‘people ask me how I’m doing, I just pretend I cannot hear them . . . and I keep dancing by myself to make the hurt go away’. ‘Scar for Love’ and ‘Lost Ub’ in particular hook up with Stevie Nicks and the soft rock Fleetwood Mac of Tango in the Night. ‘Lost Ub’ sees Dahlström suggesting a clandestine environment that is provocative and compelling and, with its chant of ‘dry a line sister, draw it deep, do not stop until we bleed, we mark each other’s heart with a scar’, ‘Scar for Life’ is deeply romantic and sneakily disturbing.

The most startling parts of Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now are found on two uneasy and oddly paced ballads. ‘Brand New’ and ‘Everybody Wants to be You’ are both piano-led and highly melodramatic, ending up in very different places from there they initially begin. ‘Brand New’ is the album’s most contemporary sounding song, hardly ‘on-trend’ but then neither is it identifiable as anything you may have heard decades before. With its classically cantering piano riff and a near six-minute playing time which accommodates its many sonic twists and turns, the eventual euphoria is breathtaking. ‘Everybody Wants to be You’ is an attention-seeking, key-changing showstopper. With a more transparent, ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ sadness and with soulful backing vocals bringing to mind Laura Nero, it is magnificently decadent and indulgent.

There are no outright bangers on this record but there are a clutch of tunes where the mood and the bpms deviate from the low and the mid to the just above mid tempo. The kooky electro-pop of ‘Shark City (Tropico X)’ amazingly doesn’t jar in this environment and the album closer is a freeform, extended funky disco workout that, although perfectly done, doesn’t quite match up to that which proceeded it. Like the Tegan and Sara album, Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now is as much a love letter to the radio pop of the mid- to late 80s as it is a sincere desire to make current music that connects to a kind of sexual ambiguity, mystery and romantic warmth which refuses to patronise or lecture the listener. It’s neither parody nor ironic hipstering. Niki & The Dove seem to feel culturally bereft and presume you do too. Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now is their attempt to make you smile at each other again.