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.

Advertisements

Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods

After a gap of twenty-five years, filled only by an entire musical career with Everything But The GirlTracey Thorn returned ten years ago this week with her second solo album Out of the Woods.

It opens with the sweet, nursery rhyme-like Here it Comes Again. I haven’t heard her 1982 debut A Distant Shore, but I think it’s probably safe to say that it sounded a lot less polished than this. It’s laid back though, and lacks some of the electronic sound of her work with Everything But The Girl, so the opening riff of A-Z will be very welcome if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. It’s a great synth song, very different but every bit as good as anything Thorn had done in the preceding couple of decades.

The lead single was It’s All True, a collaboration with Ewan Pearson and another great synthpop song. It’s a lot more playful than you might be used to, but it’s still extremely good. And the collaboration obviously worked out – Pearson produced the entirety of Thorn’s subsequent album Love and Its Opposite (2010).

Get Around to It is a cover of a song by Arthur Russell, which is a little harder to fathom than some of the other things on here, and then Hands Up to the Ceiling is a wonderfully ironic, largely acoustic piece about partying.

Thorn worked with a wide range of different collaborators on this album, and it shows, both for better and worse – it’s a deliciously varied collection, but it can be a little hit or miss at times too. Easy is one of the better pieces on here, full of atmosphere and melancholy, and Falling Off a Log may not be the catchiest ever, but it has an enormous bass part and some clever production too.

Nowhere Near passes you by fairly anonymously, but Grand Canyon, which rightly appeared as the album’s third single with a whole pile of remixes, is probably as close as this album gets to the likes of Missing – it has a catchy but sad melody, with an enormous house riff in the background, and frankly it’s fantastic.

The production on the more folk-flavoured tracks is fun too, and it’s probably fair to say this would be less of an album without them, but on the other hand By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept is definitely a lot less memorable than Raise the Roof, which follows, and also appeared as the second single.

Amazingly though, this is such a varied album that you probably didn’t notice this was the last track already. Digital editions added a beautifully broken down cover of Pet Shop Boys‘ King’s Cross, which later appeared as a single in its own right with a fantastic remix by Hot Chip, but you don’t get that on the CD unfortunately.

Apart from that notable omission, Out of the Woods is a great second album, and an extremely promising way for Thorn to revitalise her career.

Buy the digital version of Out of the Woods here, or buy the CD but then make sure you add King’s Cross on for yourself – it’s a key part of this album.

Retro chart for stowaways – 14 April 2007

These are the top ten albums from nine years ago this week:

  1. Client – Heartland
  2. Air – Pocket Symphony
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Téo & Téa
  4. Onetwo – Instead
  5. Marsheaux – Peeka Boo
  6. Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory
  7. Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods
  8. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  9. Moby – Go – The Very Best of Moby
  10. Faithless – To All New Arrivals

Massive Attack – Collected

With a new Massive Attack album on the horizon and their compilation Collected celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, now seems an ideal time to look back at the first phase in the career of Bristol’s most legendary group.

Now with a history of nearly thirty years behind them, they had already been releasing albums for fifteen years by the time this compilation appeared, making it a solid and comprehensive collection of their singles from 1991 to 2006. It’s also very difficult to fault.

It opens with the exceptional Safe from Harm, their third or fourth single back in 1991, featuring a magnificent vocal from Shara Nelson. Although less successful in most markets than Unfinished Sympathy, it provided the group with their only US Dance hit, and is an entirely appropriate way to open this compilation.

The baton is passed smoothly to the brilliantly dark Karmacoma, this time with Tricky on vocals, the third single from the Protection album in 1995. There are those who would fault a non-linear compilation album, but if it’s compiled well, a clear narrative and listening experience can flow, and that’s definitely true here, as we move on to 1998’s deeply moving Angel, from their most successful album Mezzanine, with long-time collaborator Horace Andy.

Although it’s from the same album, this is a perfect counterpart to Teardrop, with Elizabeth Fraser‘s moving vocal. Always an exceptional vocalist, she is in her element here, delivering a curious but tactile lyric against the trippy electronic backing. Then comes Inertia Creeps, the final single from the same album, before Tracey Thorn turns up for one of her finest hours, the title track from 1994’s Protection, in its full seven minute glory.

This mixes across to our first taste of 2003’s 100th Window, the non-chart release Butterfly Caught. This was Massive Attack‘s darkest album to date, and this single is hardly joyful, but it has a grimy beauty which definitely allows it to earn its place here.

Definitely overdue by this stage is the iconic Unfinished Sympathy, and the only slight disappointment here is that they elected to include the album version – exceptional, but it’s already been on an album, whereas Nellee Hooper‘s single version is every bit as good, if not better, and has not. But it’s difficult to complain when the music is this good – their breakthrough hit from 1991, it definitely deserved considerably more attention than it ever got.

All that remains now is to pick up the leftovers – some of them substantial hits when they originally appeared, but mostly now better remembered as album tracks. Risingson is another gloriously dark piece, and then What Your Soul Sings with Sinéad O’Connor as the guest vocalist, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t actually a single, but fits rather nicely here nonetheless, followed by Future Proof and Five Man Army, which definitely weren’t singles.

Compilations rarely include particularly memorable packaging, and so this one is unusual – the double disc package is presented in a nice softback book, and the second disc, a collection of b-sides and rarities including the brilliant single False Flags, also turns out to be a DualDisc – flip it over, and you also get a DVD of all the videos.

There may be some surprising inclusions towards the end, and one particularly notable choice of version which you can question, but there’s nothing particular missing from here. Sinéad O’Connor‘s other guest vocal on Special Cases, which was also actually the only hit single from 100th Window is the only notable omission. Perhaps early singles Any Love or Daydreaming should have been on here, and personally I’d have loved to hear early EP track Home of the Whale again, but these are really very minor quibbles.

The last two tracks are Sly, which you had probably never noticed was in fact the first single from 1994’s Protection album, and then the exceptional Live with Me, with Terry Callier giving the group the best vocal performance of their entire career. If you’re ever unsure of how to close your compilation album, you should start taking notes from Massive Attack.

A triple disc version of Collected, with all the same material described above, is still available here.

Preview – Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn‘s solo material seems to have had its ups and downs, but when it’s up, it’s definitely up. This week sees her first solo compilation, creatively called Solo: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015, which includes material from all of her solo projects before, during, and after she joined Ben Watt and became Everything But The Girl. There’s a nice array of collaborations too, most famously including Massive Attack, but also Adam F and The Style Council, among others.

As a taster, here’s a live version of Why Does the Wind?

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.

Retro chart for stowaways – 6 June 2010

Here are the top ten albums from June 2010:

  1. Skywatchers – The Skywatchers Handbook
  2. Little Boots – Hands
  3. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
  4. Goldfrapp – Head First
  5. Massive Attack – Heligoland
  6. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  7. I Monster – Dear John EP
  8. Tracey Thorn – Love and Its Opposite
  9. The Knife – Tomorrow, In a Year
  10. Zero 7 – Yeah Ghost