It’s now over 40 years since Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn met at Hull University, already part of the post-punk world. Over the following twenty years they would have a number of musical reinventions, and a lot of very deserved critical and commercial success (go investigate) before going on hiatus in 2000. Since then, despite being a couple they haven’t collaborated much though there have been some excellent solo albums and books written by the pair individually. Given that for a long time, it seemed they were unlikely to do another album together as Everything But The Girl, it was a matter of rejoicing for those of us who loved them when they announced that they would be releasing their tenth album, and first since 1999’s Temperamental.
Not only that, it’s a matter for celebrating that this album is so utterly brilliant. Album opener ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ was the first single to be released back in January, suggesting they had set the bar very high for the rest of the album. The duo had started to involve different strands of dance and electronica in their music from 1994’s Amplified Heart onwards (and not just that remix), and what we have here is an that manages to be both for the feet and for the heart.
It’s melancholic yet not a depressing album. See, while the lyrics of songs may seem sad, there’s something about this album that is affirming and uplifts the soul. On ‘Forever‘ Thorn sings ‘give me something I could hold onto forever/give me something I could hold onto whatever.‘ This is delivered in a way that is not plaintive, but rather suggests hope. It can be infectious, after all. It also feels – and this is meant as a compliment – very contemporary and comfortable like that. There are occasions when acts attempt to update their sound and it feels like they’re trying too hard, and the attempt struggles (there are plenty of examples; you can pick your own). That isn’t the case here. And whatever some might think, there are links with their music that go back to the eighties, and the spirit of the duo is in their songwriting as much as their sound. Whether the king and queen of the bedsit bossa-nova as they were portrayed in the eighties, or going out on the town, there’s still that link that whatever the changes between their first hit ‘Each And Every One‘ and this brilliant collection of new songs, on which there is not a duff track.
I hope there’ll be another Everything But The Girl album. If there isn’t, this will be a very fine way to end the band. If there is, then the strength of this record shows that they continue to fire on all cylinders.