British duo Everything But The Girl makes splashy comeback with new music
The release of “Fuse,” the new album from Everything But The Girl (EBTG), last week was one long awaited by fans who had been dreaming of new music from the well-loved British duo. In the 24 years since they released “Temperamental” in 1999, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have raised their three children, written deeply personal memoirs and recorded their own music.
Their joint decision to step back from the limelight however confounded longtime followers especially after Todd Terry’s remix of the song “Missing” from the “Amplified Heart” (1994) album opened them up to a wave of new listeners. The already memorable line, “And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain,” became even more popular with Terry’s club-like remix.
There is a similar vibe running through “Nothing Left to Lose,” the first single off the new album. It was released earlier this year with an accompanying video of young dancers performing a modern-day courtship dance. Thorn and Watt are nowhere to be seen in the video, but fans didn’t seem to mind; it was enough to have a new EBTG song to play on loop.
‘Nod to our past’
“This was the last track we wrote and recorded,” Thorn said in notes released simultaneously with the album. “I think we could only do it once we had got our confidence levels up. We were buzzing off the tracks we had already done, and thought we just needed one more to really nail it. When Ben put the backing track together, with that beat and the heavy tremolo bass and loads of space for my vocal, it felt like a nod to our past but fresh. It was so atmospheric and it inspired this really raw, heartfelt lyric.”
In the weeks leading up to the album’s release, the duo periodically posted online behind-the-scenes photos and video clips of their early days, complete with interesting back stories that helped whet fans’ appetites.
They also granted a number of interviews for print and radio, which was surprising considering how skittish they were with journalists when they were much younger. Now both in their 60s, Thorn and Watt have become more open and welcoming with the entire process, including meeting the press.
‘Like a first album again’
In a radio interview with BBC last week, they talked about how it felt working with each other again on an album after over two decades, and how they were able to keep it under wraps from all but their closest kin.
“It felt like we were watering and nurturing seedings rather than a fully grown thing like it was in the old days. It almost felt like a first album again, which was actually good,” Watt said.
“It was quite freeing. We didn’t have a record company to answer to, we weren’t following up a big hit. It was just us, on our own, in secret all last summer. Only our kids and two close friends knew. We got the whole thing written, recorded and mixed before we even told anyone.”
They released three more singles including “Caution to the Wind,” “Run A Red Light” and “No One Knows We’re Dancing”—all of which are like earworm.
Watt told the BBC that while they “try to write from something unencumbered, free and true,” they still have to take a step back and look at it, or in their case, listen to it, objectively.
“There comes a point when you’re midway writing or producing and ask, ‘Is this relatable? Is this working? Will other people get something from this?’ You have to keep going through those sliding doors. To make it real, you have to step back,” he added.
For Fuse, the pair eased into a familiar work dynamic where they considered the other as the first point of reference.
“If either of us comes with an idea and the other doesn’t get it, then that’s a sure sign it’s not working. It doesn’t matter if I think its good. If it’s not impressing Ben, then that’s it,” Thorn told the BBC.
‘Spirit of positivity’
“We haven’t worked together in a long time … so if we were going to make this work, we had to be very receptive to each other especially at the beginning. We had to go into it in a spirit of positivity. We wanted things to flourish,” she continued.
Two of the tracks, “Run A Red Light” and “When You Mess Up,” feature Thorn’s auto-tuned voice that can be jarring especially in the latter, although you have to hand it to them for their willingness to try what musician Mark Ronson calls “that sad robot quality.”
“When You Mess Up” is the first song they wrote together since 1999. “I had recorded a series of piano improvisations on my iPhone just playing, without imagining I was writing a song, trying to free myself from any pressures and expectations,” Watt said.
Of “Time and Time Again,” Thorn said it’s “the kind of song where you can’t quite tell, which is the verse and which is the chorus. It’s more circular than linear.”
The last two tracks—“Interior Space” and “Karaoke”—are moody and atmospheric with the first incorporating a field recording of a beach in Wales, and the second about a trip Thorn takes to a karaoke bar in San Francisco that starts out “fairly humdrum” until one of the regulars shows up, sings Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight” and brings the house down.
My favorites so far are the four singles and “Forever,” which has a dreamlike riff and these repeating lines: Give me something I can hold on to forever/ Give me something I can hold on to whatever.
It may have taken EBTG almost a quarter of a century to make a comeback, but this fan is really glad—cross my heart.