Artist of the Week – Everything But The Girl

Time now for the last of our old artists of the week. As always, please accept my apologies for errors, plagiarism, laziness, greed, or anything else that might annoy you!

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn formed Everything But The Girl way back in 1984, after each releasing a solo album. Throughout the 1980s, they scored numerous minor hit singles and albums, but their biggest hits were always cover versions, including 1988’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It. In 1992, Ben Watt famously came very close to death, suffering for over a year from a near-fatal illness.

Their return in 1994 with Amplified Heart saw them carefully examining different musical directions, but it was at the end of the year when they worked with Massive Attack on the Protection album, and this saw them head into the world of dance music. Todd Terry‘s 1995 remix of Missing propelled them to the top end of the charts, providing them with their biggest hit, and the following year they returned with the Walking Wounded album, with numerous substantial hits.

In 1998 they wored with Deep Dish on The Future of the Future, and this saw them heading deeper and darker into house and drum and bass territory. 1999’s Temperamental album was a deep and dark affair, with extensive exploratory tracks but a few accessible moments.

Since then they seem to have faltered somewhat as a band, but of course they are now married with children. Ben Watt spent three years running the Lazy Dog club in London, and continues to put out individual deep house tracks on small independent labels including his own Buzzin’ Fly label. They’ve also put out their third singles compilation Like the Deserts Miss the Rain, and, more recently, an astoundingly good remix album, Adapt or Die.

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.

Everything But The Girl – Adapt or Die – 10 Years of Remixes

The all-too-brief period in the late 1990s when Everything But The Girl stopped being slightly electronic and very jazz-folky, and switched to being very electronic and only slightly jazz-folky, seems a very long time ago now. After just two albums and a handful of singles, it ended properly in 2005 with the compilation Adapt or Die – Ten Years of Remixes.

It opens with a very chilled out version of the 1996 album track Mirrorball, slightly improbably by DJ Jazzy Jeff, who despite a somewhat questionable CV really pulls something rather special out of the bag with his Sole Full remix, full of rippling pianos, soft pads, and gentle beats.

Adam F‘s fantastic single version of Before Today, also from the Walking Wounded album, follows. The original mix combined gentle pads and a beautiful melody with soft drum and bass, and this version does the same, but with even more energy and sparkle. A couple of tracks in, and this collection really hasn’t disappointed at all.

All things date to some degree, and so it is with Missing, which turns up next. Of course, it’s still one of the best dance tunes ever written, but CL McSpadden‘s Unreleased Powerhouse mix should perhaps have remained unreleased, as it takes up the place of Todd Terry‘s wonderful single version. This mix, while still very good, surely steps a little too close to the vacuous house music of the late 1990s to be the only version of Missing on this compilation?

The Knee Deep remix of Corcovado, painstakingly re-edited by Ben Watt to include the original vocal, is pleasant enough, but is a slight disappointment given how exceptional the original b-side was. Like the dreadful Tracey in My Room, it sounds a bit like a mash-up, and works some of the time, but not all of it.

King Britt‘s Scuba mix of 1994’s Rollercoaster is rather better. It may lack some of the more cohesive elements of the Walking Wounded and Temperamental albums, but it’s an entirely pleasant piece of what’s probably best classified as some kind of warm, deep house, but with a huge number of drums. It’s somehow more haunting than the original, and really rather good too.

There are lots of big names on here, but that doesn’t always mean much, as Kenny Dope‘s take on Downhill Racer, originally from Temperamental, while far from bad, is an uninspired piece of work. Similarly Brad Wood‘s Memphis remix of Single does little more than add a house beat to the original, but the stronger song makes it more memorable.

Dave Wallace‘s darker take on Walking Wounded is a pleasant surprise – it’s very different from the original, but it fits well here, in amongst the darker remixes on this collection. It may lack some of the subtleties of the album version, but it’s a good re-imagining nonetheless.

Kevin Yost‘s Everything And A Groove mix of Five Fathoms is rather more dull. The original, a dark and atmospheric piece of deep house, is reduced to a tribal piece with silly vocal samples and very little else. It’s not entirely unpleasant, just a little empty after the preceding piece and considering how good the original is.

The improbably named Jay ‘Sinister’ Sealee turns up next to rework the stunning Lullaby of Clubland. This version is good, but again lacks the power of the original – or indeed some of the other versions on the single. Similarly, the bizarre Pull Timewarp Remix of Temperamental, which has had pretty much everything changed – it’s not bad by any means; you just find yourself wondering slightly what the point might be.

Changes from original songs doesn’t always have to mean something worse than the original – Fabio‘s fantastic remix of Blame is one example of the opposite trend, although perhaps it’s not quite as different as some of the others. It’s a much darker, more primal take than the album version, and works extremely well. It’s edited here (a minute or so has been lopped off) and unusually on this album, that is a bit of a shame.

Somewhat behind schedule, Todd Terry turns up to remix the very much Todd Terry-inspired Wrong, the second single from Walking Wounded, and the one that sounded a little bit like Missing. Again, the Unreleased Freeze Mix isn’t quite as good as some of the versions that came out in 1996, but it retains most of the charm of the original, so can’t really be faulted.

The acoustic version of Driving is a little out of place, but does serve as a worthwhile reminder of Everything But The Girl‘s background. In the place of a third album, Adapt or Die is a great album, and a fantastic way to close the decade or so in which EBTG put the world of electronic music to rights.

You can just about still find Adapt or Die at all major retailers.

Remixes

Remixes are one of those things that really divide people. Some hate them outright; some love each and every one of them. Others recognise them for what they are – a valid form of music, but one which suffers from mediocrity just like every other form.

In a previous post, I talked about the glory days of the 1990s, when a CD or 12″ single could contain up to forty minutes of non-stop music. Over your four permitted formats, you could comfortably fit more than 90 minutes of remixes. Factor in the import versions, and you could literally bore yourself to tears.

Except, who would ever want to listen to that many of versions of the same song? Even if you’re the biggest fan of the single, or even the greatest fan of remixes, the chances of you finding an hour and a half of non-stop enjoyment must be pretty slim.

There were those who broke the boundaries of the format, such as The Future Sound of London, with their forty minute mini-albums, and these rebels are certainly to be applauded. But for the most part, anyone who pushed the boundaries of the 90 minute single was unlikely to also be pushing the boundaries of the remix.

There were – and still are – many cases where a remixer would return three or four different versions of their own mix. Sometimes these would have fairly subtle differences, and other times they would be entirely pointless. Take Todd Terry, to name but one repeat offender, whose instrumentals, dubs, and accapella versions have littered many a bonus 12″ single. And much as I like his versions of Everything But The Girl‘s Missing and Wrong, he did get a little formulaic at times (Driving, for example, is a bit of a travesty).

So part of the problem has always been that the people doing the mixes tended to be picked by their popularity rather than their suitability or merit. Todd Terry is far from the worst offender, as he did at least deviate from his sound from time to time (unlike, say, Motiv8 to name but one). There must be plenty of examples of acts that spring to mind who turned up on single after single in the 1990s, and churned out the same drivel every  time.

Relatively few artists used their remix CD to do anything particularly interesting either – Depeche Mode were one of the common exceptions, regularly crossing into rock and electronica territory with their choices of remixers, but most acts just seemed intent on trying to get their latest single into the clubs, at pretty much any cost.

Things have improved over the last couple of decades, although that legacy does remain. Take Pet Shop Boys‘ recent singles, such as Vocal, where the CD consisted of nine remixes, and the discography lists no fewer than forty-two. Does anyone really need that many versions of the same song? No, of course they don’t.

None of which is to say that remixes don’t have any artistic merit – of course they do. But in the long run, how are the mass-produced mix singles of the mid-1990s any better than the sort of rubbish that Simon Cowell wants us all to waste our money on?

Yazoo – Only Yazoo – The Best of Yazoo

I’m not sure that Mute Records ever really did a particularly good job of milking the catalogue of Yazoo. With two great albums – a number one and a number two, and a whole string of hugely significant hit singles, it wasn’t until the 1990s that they started trying to revisit their catalogue, and even then it was in a messy, disjointed fashion.

After the remixes of Situation and State Farm in 1990, there was then a series of CD reissues in 1996, and finally the first Yazoo best of Only Yazoo, fifteen years ago this week in 1999. Beautifully packaged, and accompanied by remixes of the three megahits, it was pretty successful. But was it actually any good?

Only Yazoo opens with the debut single and number two hit Only You, grabbing the listener from the start. It then jumps forward to the fantastic Ode to Boy from You and Me Both (1983, reviewed here). Then comes the one single from that album, the brilliant Nobody’s Diary.

Then Midnight and Goodbye ’70s, both from Upstairs at Eric’s (1982) follow. This compilation marked the first time that many of these tracks had seen a decent digital mastering, and although it’s now overshadowed by the rather better box set In Your Room (2008), the improvement in sound quality was marked.

Every compilation has its notable omissions and odd inclusions, but it’s rare that the compilers have so few singles to choose from. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that there are so many album tracks on here. What is perhaps surprising is that one of the five original singles, the non-album track The Other Side of Love, is not on here, and neither is François Kevorkian‘s 1990 version of Situation, both of which would have been welcome.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of some tracks, such as Anyone and Mr Blue, a couple of the less interesting tracks from You and Me Both, is a little puzzling. But slap bang in the middle is Don’t Go, so everything is OK. Then come Tuesday and the lovely Winter Kills from Upstairs at Eric’s, and the main chunk of the album is over already.

Every compilation should have its special, unique selling points, and on this release they’re all clustered towards the end. State Farm, only ever before heard as the b-side to The Other Side of Love is an extremely welcome inclusion, and while the reissued CD release of Upstairs at Eric’s also had François Kevorkian‘s original US 12″ mix of Situation is always worth hearing, so it’s good to have it here too.

There are then new remixes of Don’t Go, by Todd Terry, Situation, by Club 69, and finally Only You, by Richard Stannard. Perhaps slightly surprisingly, Yazoo always seem to remix well, although the three selected here aren’t really among the finest examples. Don’t Go just sounds like another Todd Terry track, which seems a little unfair – although he did prove that the main riff still has the beginnings of a very good dance track.

As with a lot of Peter Rauhofer‘s mixes, his version of Situation is a pretty poor effort unfortunately – in the long run it boils down to nearly nine minutes of over-extended house beats and not a whole lot else. And the new mix of Only You on the end, while pleasant enough on every level, just seems a little unnecessary – it’s basically the same as the original but with a few extra strings. Well, if that was all it needed, couldn’t they have just reissued the original?

So Only Yazoo may be a little disjointed, but it did mark the first time that the record company really gave their back catalogue the honour it deserved. These days you could skip it and jump to the better and more complete In Your Room, but in 1999, this was the essential Yazoo collection.

You can still find Only Yazoo at all major retailers, such as here.