It is rare for a band to take as
complete a musical right turn as Everything But the Girl did in the
mid-nineties. They had put together quite a reputation in a decade of
recording as a thinking man's smooth jazz ensemble. Tracey Thorn's
wistfully gorgeous vocals were wed to the melodic perfectionism of Ben
Three events transpired to force the group to
reconsider everything it had previously believed, and replace its lusciously
creamy tunes with a more sterile (but still undeniably affecting) modern
dance beats. One thing that brought about the change was that Thorn
was approached to front the otherworldly electronica confection "Protection"
(included here) for trip-hop innovators Massive Attack. The second was
that band mastermind Ben Watt was diagnosed with an extremely rare and
painful immune system disease and came incredibly close to death. The
third thing that happened was remixer Todd Terry took an overlooked year old
jazz-pop single called "Missing" and gave it surprise electronica dance
makeover. This reexamination made the song a huge international hit.
Red Hot and Rio.
While the song has Thorn's softly murmured vocals over a sweet jazz
background, about a minute into the tune a thoroughly modern dance beat asserts itself... slowly at first
and eventually taking control of the track.
After that, most of Everything But the Girl's music moved in this direction. This stylistic split can be best heard in one song, a lovely take (in the native
Portuguese) of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic "Corvocado" which was
recorded for the AIDS charity album
I have to admit that while
I enjoy and respect the newer tunes, I prefer the more human vibe of their
earlier work. With the exception of their first international hit, the
impossibly beautiful "Each and Everyone" and a few album tracks, most of the
sixteen songs (or twenty if you get the limited edition version with a bonus
EP) come here from the post-beats era. This is
especially odd since they have only released two studio albums of new
material in that time (though Watt and Thorn have also released some remix
projects under the band's name.)
Listening to this disk, one
can't help but wonder, where are such vital earlier
singles as "Apron Strings," "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing," "I Don't Want
To Talk About It" and "Driving?" Despite these
omissions, what is here is an amazingly
consistent group of songs. There is the cosmic trip-hop vibe of
"Tracey In My Room" and the jazzy sophistication of "Rollercoaster" and a
gorgeously sparse cover of Elvis Costello's weeper "Almost Blue." Like the Deserts Miss the Rain gives short shift
to EBTG's early years, but otherwise it's a wonderful collection.