Everything But The Girl new album: Fuse from the Orbit of the Wise

The British duo Everything But The Girl releases “Fuse”: Its laid-back music opens new spaces for singer Tracey Thorn’s voice.

Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt are Everything But The Girl

Great combination: Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt Photo: Edward Bishop

When is the work of established pop stars considered late work? Can it be considered in isolation from the early work? Or does it have to be judged in context? In the case of the British duo Everything But The Girl, who are releasing a new album today after a 24-year break, this reading lends itself: “Fuse” suits its title – fuse means fuse, fuse, fuse, but also burn through – on all levels of meaning just.

It’s a fusion of musical output from 1981 to 1999, spanning the solo careers of two 62-year-old artists, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, before and after the band temporarily broke up in 2000, while being anchored in the present and fearless in the future ignites.

The lyrics of singer Tracey Thorn have always revolved around personal matters, often describing concrete situations and feelings – such as in the song “We Walk The Same Line” from the album “Amplified Heart” (1994): “If you lose your faith, babe / You can have mine.” It is a declaration of love to Watt and at the same time a slogan to persevere.

In 1992, Watt was dying of a rare autoimmune disease. More often than not, Thorn’s lyrics draw universal power from what is left unsaid: “What is it that I think I need? / Is there love in me that wants to be freed?’ (‘I Don’t Understand Anything’, from ‘Amplified Heart’).

With the lyrics of the first single release from “Fuse”, “Left To Lose”, the artist draws a bow back to the duo’s biggest hit, “Missing”, which spent months in the charts in the 1995 remix by US house producer Todd Terry was. As in “Missing”, the song’s voice returns to the house of the sung “you”.

Everything But The Girl: “Fuse” (Virgin/Universal)

While in “Missing” she blames her inadequacies for the loss of contact, in “Fuse” she asks for help: “Tell me what to do / ‘Cause nothing works without you.” The longing of “Missing” is expressed in “Left To Lose ‘ buffered with mellow fatalism. “What’s left to lose? /Nothing left to lose.”

Pleasantly empty

Thorn’s still overwhelming voice presents a fait accompli. While the song doesn’t exactly lift the spirits, the emptiness it leaves behind feels comfortable. That’s because of the sounds. Watts tongue-in-cheek hi-hats and clicking drumbeats that create a certain rush, occasionally interspersed subwoofer basses, plus a sound like those plastic pipes that you swing over your head, and melodic dissonances convey: never give up, never. “Kiss me while the world decays/Kiss me while the music plays.” Are these the blessings of old age?

It was a long road to get there: When Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt met in the northern English university town of Hull in 1981, the two 20- and 19-year-olds independently had a record deal with the London indie label Cherry Red in their pockets. Thorn released the album Beach Party with her all-girl band Marine Girls there. His relaxed, obstinate DIY attitude tells you that Punk Thorn and her colleagues paved the way out of the suburbs. Watt’s 1981 single “Can’t” was produced by Kevin Coyne and reveals his roots in experimental folk jazz.

Thorn writes in her autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen (2013) that Cherry Red’s A&R manager Mike Alway heard a talent in her voice that reminded him of Brazilian soccer star Pelé. So he gets Watt to track down Thorn in Hull. The two are to record a single together, A-side a Marine Girls song, B-side one by Watt. At the end of the session they jam Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” – resulting in the first hit of Everything But The Girl (EbtG). The reclined smoked glass version of the classic stayed in the UK charts for 30 weeks.

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Had they known that EbtG was going to be a long-term project, they would have looked for a slightly more supple name and not copied it from a furniture store advertising poster, Thorn recalls in “Bedsit Disco Queen”. With the release of their debut album “Eden”, the duo, now also a couple privately, take their time until 1984. Both pursue their solo projects, and Thorn releases another album with the Marine Girls. Even as EbtG, they don’t limit themselves to togetherness, recruit guest musicians and get involved elsewhere.

In the period that followed, the duo oriented themselves musically away from the harsh folk jazz pop of “Eden”, via airy guitar pop (“Love Not Money”, 1985) and an orchestral wall of sound – (“Baby, The Stars Shine Bright”, 1986, Thorn’s voice is playful alongside the orchestra of radio hit “Come On Home” to the slightly random electronic pop of “Idlewild” (1988). Then excursions into the mainstream, some flops.

A short breather, and then the milestone: “Amplified Heart” (1994) – not only the immortal “Missing”, each song looks like a statue, the arrangements light, rhythmic guitars meet electronic hydraulic sounds, which in “Walking Wounded” (1996 ) step up to drum ‘n’ bass in style. In between, Thorn was approached by Massive Attack for a vocal contribution. She gets a demo, listens to the sketch for a week and then writes the lyrics in 15 minutes, which she doesn’t change anymore. Thorn deliberately turns against the dull hedonism that was socially acceptable at the time. The melody of the song comes to her by itself. The song is called “Protection” and becomes a hit.

Blame it on the stage fright
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