All-Time Albums: #42



1 Before Today 4:18 (UK single, #25)
2 Wrong 4:36 (UK single, #8)
Single 4:38 (UK single, #20)
The Heart Remains A Child 3:50
Walking Wounded 6:05 (UK single, #6)
6 Flipside 4:33
7 Big Deal 4:29
8 Mirrorball 3:27
9 Good Cop Bad Cop 4:54

The story of how ’80s student bedsit types Everything But The Girl ended up making drum’n’bass records in the late ’90s has been well told over the years.

Starting out as promising indie stars on the Cherry Red roster, he as a solo artist collaborating with Robert Wyatt, she as part of The Marine Girls, their major label debut for Blanco Y Negro coincided with the jazzy, acoustic, articulate pop of Working Week, Carmel and The Style Council being in vogue during the summer of 1984. From there, they’d go Top 10 with second album Love Not Money but lose their way a little over the next few years, only charting with a cover of I Don’t Want To Talk About It, before 1991’s Worldwide set appeared to have taken the “let’s make a glossy record in America with crack session musos” concept as far as it could stretch.

They were losing more of their still fairly loyal fanbase with each release, until the Covers EP in 1992 took their approach back to basics and put them back in the Top 20.

Tracey Thorn’s vocals were always the duo’s greatest asset, in tandem with Ben Watt’s sympathetic harmonies and ear for a pretty tune. For some reason, perhaps the choice of material, EBTG had never clicked with the public on a regular basis, but there was enough latent interest for a 1993 Best Of (Home Movies) to enter the charts at #5 (tellingly, very few of the inclusions were singles). The retrospective, with two excellent new recordings, nicely positioned EBTG as a relevant act for the 1990s and laid the foundations for Amplified Heart, the album which would, in a roundabout way, completely change their career via the Todd Terry remix of Missing.

What would Ben & Tracey do next, people wondered? Ride their newfound fame as purveyors of fashionable club bangers, or revert to the acoustic folk rock of yore. When it emerged in the Spring of 1996, Walking Wounded provided the answer: a lot of the former, and yet still a bit of the latter too. The key was in the sublime merging of the two, the elements of drum’n’bass fusing with the traditional EBTG formula. Oh, and the fact that it featured some of their finest-ever songs.

If any album summed up my listening habits in 1996, it was Walking Wounded. Truth be told, despite buying most of their work since Idlewild, I was not a massive EBTG fan until this record. Home Movies had reminded me, and a lot of others no doubt, of just how good a back catalogue they possessed. Their problem had usually been in the choices of which songs to release as singles, flirtations with blandness, and an ever-changing image which never seemed quite cool enough for some.

Strip back the sound, focus on the vocals and harmonies, get some excellent material and ditch the cutesier aspects of their image, and bingo! EBTG were reborn via the Covers project, a US-only Acoustic album, and then Amplified Heart did the rest.

By the time of Walking Wounded, and the introduction of icy synths and stuttering drum machines, the pair had already made two crucial contributions to the second Massive Attack album Protection – including the title song, a stunning showcase for Tracey’s voice and a #14 hit. It was a match made in heaven, prompting the question…why didn’t they think of this before? For the first time, I felt an EBTG record connect with me in a way that no others had managed in the past.

Some of the songwriting on this album was not a million miles from their usual style; Heart Remains A Child, Before Today, Mirrorball….all could have existed on Amplified Heart, or Idlewild. Even the likes of Wrong and Big Deal as well. The title song was perhaps the greatest surprise, and the biggest shift in tone, a languid soundscape of contemporary beats and keyboards, given human pulse by melancholy lyrics which had a simplicity and directness that felt fresh and very affecting.

It had been quite a circuitous route, but Everything But The Girl had finally found themselves. And it sounded divine.

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