In 1996, Everything But The Girl released their 8th studio album and it boasted a completely different sound and feel to any of their earlier efforts. Casual observers may have been slightly surprised but for long – term admirers it was simply the next logical step.
A Brief Historical Detour:
Ben Watts and Tracey Thorn met each other in 1981 when both attended Hull University and, by strange coincidence, both had just signed as solo artists to Cherry Red Records. They teamed up, professionally and personally, and formed EBTG which was really a band in name only, it consisted primarily of those two plus various session musicians.
Their first recordings (in a slightly jazzy pop style) were relatively successful and they soon became darlings of the indie scene, sharing a fan base demographic with the likes of The Smiths, Billy Bragg and The Style Council. Over the following few years they made some fine albums with Love Not Money and Idlewild being particular stand-outs.
By 1994 however things seemed to have hit a bit of a brick wall, artistically speaking. Their albums had become victims of the law of diminishing returns and that year’s Amplified Heart whilst still a decent album, just seemed to be lacking something, that little crucial spark of imagination.
A form of salvation emerged from a seemingly unlikely source. Ben Watt had become very interested in Dance music and when he got top producer/DJ Todd Terry to remix the album track “Missing” the result was extraordinary, a thumping track which, although seemingly upbeat, somehow captured a sound of isolation and loneliness, the feeling of being cut adrift as life passes you by.
It stormed the charts, becoming easily the band’s bestselling release to date and also the catalyst for a critical and commercial rebirth.
It was also a sound that EBTG were to embrace on their next album Walking Wounded.
Ben Watt had been playing, producing and programming on EBTG records for years of course but this was where he really came into his own. Using a laid-back Drum’n’Bass/Hip-Hop template he crafted a perfect soundscape for modern living. Cool, urban, detached.
Taken in isolation, as purely instrumental tracks, this would surely have been one of the top Electronica releases of the year, the music really is that good. If it wasn’t exactly ground-breaking pioneering stuff, well, that’s OK, not everything has to be.
The key to the whole album though, the magic ingredient which makes it so special, is the dichotomy between that music and the wonderful voice of Tracey Thorn.
It’s a voice which has a unique, haunting quality to it, she can sound lost and alone, fragile, yet warm and embracing at the same time.You’ll look (or listen) long and hard to find another voice with similar feeling, stranded and lovelorn, but in a good way!
Most of the songs seem to be about lost loves and broken relationships and it seems at times like the people involved are merely looking on, with a cold emotional detachment. That’s not really the case though, listen closely to the lyrics and it’s a different story. People are having their hearts broken and feeling abandoned. It comes through. Thorn’s lyrics may seem simplistic on first listen but she’s got a lot to say.
All in all, a fantastic effort by all concerned and easily one of the best albums of the 90’s.
And take a look at that cover, it’s a photo which, somehow, captures exactly what the album sounds like…….
— Stephen Dalyrmple
All music composed by Ben Watt, lyrics by Tracey Thorn; except where indicated
- “Before Today” (Ben Watt) – 4:18
- “Wrong” – 4:36
- “Single” (Tracey Thorn) – 4:38
- “The Heart Remains a Child” (Tracey Thorn) – 3:50
- “Walking Wounded” (Ben Watt-lyrics & vocal melody; Ashley Wales, John Coxon-music) – 6:05
- “Flipside” (Ben Watt) – 4:33
- “Big Deal” – 4:29
- “Mirrorball” – 3:27
- “Good Cop Bad Cop” – 4:54
- “Wrong” Todd Terry Remix – 4:45
- “Walking Wounded” Omni Trio mix – 6:43
- Tracey Thorn : vocals
- Ben Watt : synths , beats , abstract sounds , acoustic guitar , vocals.
All songs programmed , recorded and produced by Ben Watt and mixed by Andy Bradfield except where indicated in tracklisting.