Revisited – Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded

An album so good that it needs to be reviewed twice, apparently. Walking Wounded was originally covered here back in 2012, and then in 2014, without realising, I reviewed it again. I delayed it a bit, just because the repetition seemed a little unnecessary, but now things are quieter and a little more time has passed, here is the second review, in its entirety…

After a decade or so of recording folk music – all very well written and delivered, but not really appropriate for this blog for the time being – Ben Watt‘s recovery from terminal illness spurred them to explore different directions starting with the collaboration with Massive Attack on Protection in 1994, and then Todd Terry‘s anthemic remix of Missing in 1995. Walking Wounded draws influence from these, as well as all their previous work, becoming a fascinating mix of influences.

The first track is my personal favourite, the final single Before Today, where somehow the minimal drum & bass backing and Tracey Thorn‘s excellent vocal delivery come together perfectly. It’s atmospheric and dark, and yet at the same time light and vacuous in a way that no other group could manage.

Second single Wrong is the closest to the sound of Missing, although Todd Terry doesn’t seem to have actually had his hands on the original version. Again, somehow Thorn’s haunting lyrics and vocals fit perfectly alongside the spacious electronic beats and bleeps. The confusingly titled third single Single follows, darker and trippier than its neighbours. The fascinating mix of folk-based lyrics and electronic backing continues, coming together perfectly.

After all of that, the more folky, pop-flavoured The Heart Remains a Child stands out somewhat. While it certainly isn’t bad, it wouldn’t be unfair to regard it as the low point of the first half of this album.

Things change very quickly with the title track and lead single Walking Wounded. If you don’t remember where you were the first time you heard those soaring strings and drum & bass backing, you have no soul. The lyrics, too, when Thorn sings about, “nothing can replace the us I knew,” are incredibly evocative. Suddenly, listening to this, it’s 1996 again and I’m breaking out in spots, which is a bit disturbing.

This is an intricately structured album, and so in spite of falling pretty much in the middle, what should probably be side B opens with Flipside. What this signals is a change to the less pop-orientated, darker, more introspective half of the album. Flipside is totally brilliant, but realistically never would have been a single.

There are just four tracks on this half of the album, of which Big Deal is probably the weakest. It’s by no means bad – it’s a little plodding, but the piano backing and vinyl crackle does give it a certain darkness. Once the drum & bass backing opens up, it still isn’t the best track on the album, but it seems to fit perfectly.

Mirrorball is probably the closest track to the traditional sound of Everything But The Girl, driven largely by the acoustic guitar and gentle percussion. It’s all been turned electronic though, so it sounds both contemporary and a good fit for the album, even though it is much more obviously a folk song than anything else on here.

Good Cop Bad Cop could probably have been a single if they had felt in need of another echo of the first. It’s one of the darkest lyrics and vocal deliveries on the album, so the almost joyful backing provides a strange contrast. It’s a clever choice for the last track on the main part of the album.

The inspiration for Walking Wounded has been taken from Japanese imports, and so the barcode appears on the front cover, and there are a couple of remixes tacked on the end in seemingly random fashion. In reality I suspect it’s far from random – Todd Terry‘s remix of Wrong isn’t entirely different from the original, but takes it in a slightly more beat-orientated direction, while Omni Trio‘s take on the title track is very different, and also totally brilliant. It’s a much deeper, more exploratory version, but is every bit as excellent as the original.

Despite being somewhat underplayed, and released in the middle of the dreaded Britpop era, I’m going to say that Walking Wounded is one of the most important albums of its time. It’s small and compact, but every track is good, with only a couple of very minor blips. And although it didn’t really say anything entirely new, either in songwriting or production terms, all the elements come together to form something truly exceptional.

You can find Walking Wounded at all major retailers, such as Amazon.

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