Song of the Day, June 2: Angel by Everything But the Girl

EBtGAngelToday’s song is a quiet condemnation of inhumanity. Everything But the Girl’s first album featured quiet jazz-folk with smart introspective lyrics. Many of the songs looked at personal politics, exploring domestic violence, oppressed feminism, and unwanted pregnancy. On their second disc, Love Not Money, the duo expanded their sound into a richer sophistipop, but continued to focus on personal dramas. One departure takes the political tone to a more global level.

Focusing on a homeless girl, Tracey Thorn sings passionately about the way we neglect our fellow humans. Observing “If she were a kitten, someone would take her home,” she wonders at our capacity to turn a blind eye. Quiet but powerful, the track builds over five minutes, with Thorn’s smoldering emotion flaring brighter in each verse.

Show me something more
Than the an honest girl turned thief or wore
Under African sun or Dublin rain
Necessities remain the same

Enjoy this powerful song today.

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Album of the Week, December 21: Everything But the Girl

EBtGUSBen Watt and Tracey Thorn were classmates at the University of Hull and label mates on Cherry Hill records in the early 80s. Thorn had recorded as a member of the Marine Girls and released a solo disc, A Distant Shore. Watt had also released an album, North Marine Drive, and contributed photography to a Marine Girls sleeve. They decided to work together, naming their partnership from a local store’s slogan. Their first single was a cover of Cole Porter’s Night and DayThey served as “honourary Councillors” on the Style Council’s first full-length release, Café Bleu, with Thorn singing lead on the haunting The Paris Match. During that time they also put together their debut, Eden, composing all the tracks themselves and working with a smart studio band that included bassist Phil Moxham from Young Marble Giants. They helped pioneer the “sophisti-pop” sound that blended quiet pop, smooth jazz, and bossa nova into a distinctive mix. The disc did well in the U.K., going to #14 and spinning off the Top 30 single Each and Everyone.

Title Everything But the Girl
Act Everything But the Girl
Label Sire Release Date 1984
Producer Robin Millar
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Each and Everyone
  2. Tender Blue
  3. Another Bridge
  4. Frost and Fire
  5. Fascination
  6. Crabwalk
  7. Never Could Have Been Worse
  8. Laugh You Out the House
  9. Mine
  10. Easy As Sin
  11. Native Land
  12. Riverbed Dry

For their first U.S. release, Sire dropped six of the tracks, adding the B-sides from Each and Everyone and both sides of the next two, non-album U.K. singles. While that decision created an unfortunate catalog inconsistency, it resulted in a much stronger, more cohesive album, with only the charming Spice of Life being a significant loss. The first six tracks (side one of the original vinyl) of Everything But the Girl are from Eden; the next six are the replacement tracks.

Each and Everyone is a perfect introduction to the duo, a quiet, tragic tale of heartbreak with Thorn showing off her vocal power by using just the right amount of restraint. With a samba beat and s smart delivery, it’s a nice bit of cocktail pop that presents the pair at their early best. On Tender Blue, Watt provides a rare lead vocal, trading sections with Thorn. The juxtaposition works well, accenting different elements of this story of domestic distress. Another Bridge combines a folky acoustic guitar with a quietly jazzy organ, putting nervous energy behind Thorn’s anxious delivery as she addresses a former lover. A different kind of heartbreak than Each and Everyone, it’s a nice contrast. Frost and Fire is an angrier song with a bitter edge, given special power through the restrained delivery. Fascination is one of the pair’s finest songs, even three decades later. A wistful look at romance, it provides a mature perspective on dealing with the loves in a new partner’s past. The lyric is cleverly constructed and flawlessly delivered, providing a highlight of both albums. Crabwalk wraps up the Eden material with a cute, jazzy instrumental — nothing spectacular, but a fun palate cleanser before moving on to the newer songs.

Never Could Have Been Worse and Laugh You Out the House featured on the flip side of the Each and Everyone single. They outshine most of the Eden tracks, demonstrating a greater lyrical depth and more confident delivery. The first is a haunting look at domestic violence told from a deceptively safe third-person distance. Laugh is a brief dissection of the pain of a stiff-upper-lip culture. They’re a poignant pair that show just how quickly the duo matured. Mine is another standout, a quietly determined feminist song narrated by a single mother. Smartly minimalist, it convinces quietly and shows off the duo’s less-is-more aesthetic perfectly. Easy As Sin was it’s B-side, a charming pop gem with ringing guitar work and a bolder vocal. A potent snapshot of temptation to infidelity, it’s a wonderful package of images narrated with disarming honesty. Native Land is a stern rebuke of classism and bigotry with a tasty harmonica bit provided by Johnny Marr. The musical diversity adds to the overall package and the bitter determination is another look at EBtG’s lyrical talents. Things wrap up with Riverbed Dry, another quietly wistful pop song that brings the disc to a perfect close.

FURTHER LISTENING: Watt and Thorn — who are also a married couple but very reticent about their private lives — followed a restless muse, shifting their style album by album. The next three discs are solid, slowly easing away from the more Latin influences and focusing on folky pop. Smooth jazz influences surge back in for the next pair, followed by an acoustic pop outing. The best two of this period are Love Not Money and Idlewild, both of which balance the duo’s smart social observations with their flawless dissection of romance and heartache. 1994 brought their stunning eighth album, Amplified Heart, which featured heavier pop textures under their continued lyrical growth. That disc spawned the massive hit Missing, remixed by Todd Terry and spending over a year on the Hot 100, making it all the way to #2. The club sounds that Terry provided inspired another change of direction and the duo’s three subsequent albums feature more electronica and trip-hop influences. The best of these is the quietly urgent Walking Wounded. The pair have been on hiatus since 1999, with Watt pursuing his DJ career and Thorn releasing solid solo discs.

Song of the Day, October 29: Never Could Have Been Worse by Everything But the Girl

EBTGNeverWorseToday’s song is Never Could Have Been Worse by Everything But the Girl. The duo recorded it as a B-side to their first single, Each and Every One and later included it on their eponymous U.S. debut album. It’s a haunting track about domestic violence, narrated by an outside observer who describes the scenes with detached horror. The stripped down sound — typical of their early work — is perfect for the harsh vignettes. Tracey Thorn is in fine voice, with her pure near-whisper echoing in the spare music. An eerie guitar figure and steadily ticking drum line move the story forward, grimly inexorable.

Enjoy this haunting song today.

Song of the Day, April 3: Laugh You Out the House by Everything But the Girl

EBTGLaughToday’s song is Laugh You Out the House by Everything But the Girl. It was recorded after their U.K. debut album, Eden, and first included on their eponymous U.S. debut. The music fits the light, acoustic jazz mode of their early work but includes darker, biting lyrics.

Vocalist Tracey Thorn wrote the song as a dissection of gender roles. It opens with a warning to young men to be tough and unemotional and then suggests that women must be quiet (but manipulative) to succeed. Delivered in her clear, bright style, it carries a nice edge with just a little menace as she wades into the harder verses.

Times are tough and that’s no way to live.
Well you may be right but I don’t like your alternative,
And times like these they sort the boys out from the men,
And down here with the girls is where I end up again.

And all this talk of love when that’s something you’ve never known,
It’s too undignified, and much too close, it’s much too close to home.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, September 18: Heaven Help Me by Everything But the Girl

Today’s song is Heaven Help Me by Everything But the Girl. The duo are best known for their jazz-tinged folk-pop and their later evolution into electronica and dance music. Throughout their career, however, they’ve always had a strong pop sensibility and a knack for quality lyrics. Tracy Thorn’s emotive voice carries most of the songs perfectly and she shares solid musical chops with partner (and later husband) Ben Watt. They also have a great ear for covers.

Their second album, Love Not Money, builds on the sound of its predecessor and expands into lusher soundscapes. The lyrics still range from social commentary to deeply personal vignettes. Heaven Help Me is a soaring pop anthem reminiscent of Bacharach, sung from the perspective of a woman filled with self-doubt and glad for the love of a supportive partner.

I only want a room to call my own
And a bright shiny hearth to call my home
But when you give me love I don’t deserve
I wonder how I have the nerve
To number you amongst the ones
That I call every name under the sun
Unjust I must be
So heaven help me

Curiously, this lovely track was not included on the original U.K. version of the album. A B-side, it was added to the U.S. release and later CD pressings in both countries. Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, January 18: Mine by Everything But the Girl

Today’s song is Mine by Everything But the Girl. Another great song from their debut album, this is a quietly powerful track. Sung from the perspective of a soon-to-be single mother, it clearly communicates her strength and independence.

You must give the child a name some time
Well you mean his. What’s wrong with mine?

Enjoy this wonderful song of feminism and personal power today.

Song of the Day, November 23: Fascination by Everything But the Girl

Today’s song is Fascination by Everything But the Girl. Included on their first U.K. album, Eden, and its approximate U.S. counterpart, Everything But the Girl, it perfectly captures the spirit of the duo in their early days. Over spare instrumentation writer and vocalist Tracey Thorn delivers a quiet, compelling story. Sung from the perspective of someone in the early days of a relationship, the lyrics keenly demonstrate the insecurities of new romance. Thorn simultaneously wants to know everything about her new lover’s past and understands that this knowledge would not be helpful to the growth of the relationship.

I won’t try to stop you
When you speak of the past
Doubt is over now
And I can join in when you laugh
Fascination makes us ask for more
Than we’d like to know
I needn’t explain
I think you know

With a wistful wisdom, she acknowledges that she “mustn’t wish your life began the day we met.” This simple, poignant song is a perfect message, beautifully delivered. Enjoy it today.

Song of the Day, September 26: I Don’t Understand Anything by Everything But the Girl

Today’s song is I Don’t Understand Anything by Everything But the Girl. The duo’s musical career has been quite varied, going from the lo-fi folk sound of their early albums through a jazz-influenced phase. By the time of 1994’s Amplified Heart, their 8th album, they had evolved a distinctive pop sound all their own. The album spawned their biggest hit, the U.S. #2 monster Missing, the remix of which inspired their move into a more electronic dance sound. This is a beautiful song of loss and confusion (as the very straighforward title indicates). Writer Tracey Thorn is in perfect voice, delivering the lyrics with heartbreaking clarity and simplicity. Wish her a very happy 49th birthday and enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, May 20: Femme Fatale performed by Tracey Thorn

Today’s song is Femme Fatale performed by Tracey Thorn. Between her time with the minimalist all-female Marine Girls and her long-standing participation in Everything But the Girl, Thorn recorded the brief, simple, and beautiful album A Distant Shore. Most of the album consists of original songs; the final track, however, is a cover of Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale, originally recorded with for the Velvet Underground and Nico. There are many fine performances of this song. This version is my favorite, with one of Thorn’s finest, aching vocals and a stripped-down delivery that is perfectly suited to the song. Enjoy this brilliant cover today.

Song of the Day, April 12: The Paris Match by The Style Council with Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt

The Style Council

EBtG circa 1984

Today’s song is a wonderful collaboration: The Paris Match by The Style Council with Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. When Paul Weller and Mick Talbot recorded as The Style Council, they often included Honorary Councillors. Thorn and Watt had recorded one single as Everything But the Girl before they joined The Style Council on their 1984 album Café Bleu.  EBTG released their first album, Eden, later the same year.

The Paris Match is a brilliantly wistful tune, delivered by Tracey in one of her most quietly powerful vocals. Paul recorded the song on the 1983 e.p. Introducing the Style Council; while I enjoy that version, this combined effort is truly magical. Enjoy The Paris Match here.

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