Take yourself, for a moment, back to summer 1996. Brookside is still showing controversial and unspeakably exciting things on Channel 4. Doctor Who has come back for one brief, and generally not particularly good, one-off special after seven years off the air. Independence Day is topping the box office charts, and Killing Me Softly and Three Lions are fighting for the top of the singles chart.
Among all of this, folk-pop duo Everything But the Girl appear out of nowhere with a quite exceptional album, Walking Wounded. For me… well, to steal a lyric from the album itself, you never knew the teenage me. But for him the first couple of singles stood out from the dreary indie rock of the period, and then the album totally blew me away.
Looking back now, you can see EBTG taking a clear progression starting with the release of 1994’s Amplified Heart. Even the original album version of Missing seems to have an energy, and a driving beat which the following year’s remix would only exemplify. Then their truly exceptional collaborations on Massive Attack‘s Protection album took them another step forward. Then, slowly but surely, out of nowhere, Missing gradually became an absolutely humungous hit.
Walking Wounded opens with one of the best drum and bass tracks ever recorded, Before Today, which screams with melancholic agony. A similar level of perfection carries through the entire album. Single is powerful and beautiful; and Mirrorball strangely euphoric. Even Flipside, one of the more curious moments with its unexpected references to Spurn Head and Piggy-in-the-Middle, easily surpasses much of the guitar-driven dross that was being churned out in the mid-1990s.
Of course you can find weaker moments if you look for them. The Heart Remains a Child is an odd pop incursion four tracks in, but then Tracey Thorn asks “Is this as grown up as we get?” Imagine the influence a question like that would have had on the teenage me, and actually I’m starting to wonder if I might be just a little biased about this album…
But then the title track Walking Wounded kicks in, with its gentle drum rhythms and laid back strings. The sheer power as Tracey sings “Nothing can replace the us I knew” is breathtaking and I’m reminded that this is truly a perfect album. The design and entire album concept, sequenced and made to look a like a Japanese import, is wonderfully carried off, and like all the best albums, it has a very clear split between Side A and Side B. Total perfection, and nothing less.
You should already own a copy of Walking Wounded, and if you don’t then you may now hang your head in shame. Or, alternatively, just visit iTunes.