...which also includes the conversion of the sporadically superb Everything But The Girl to the joys of jungle, a move thats not as ridiculously unlikely as it might superficially appear. After all, over the course of their first three albums Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt dabbled in jazz ("Eden"), guitar-y pop ("Love Not Money") and string-drenched 60s balladry ("Baby The Stars Shine Bright"), before settling into a long-term polished AOR rut (rather than groove), a bit like a cut-price Steely Dan. So, after the huge success of Todd Terrys reworking of "Missing", and Tracey Thorns dabblings with Massive Attack on their revelatory "Protection" album, "Walking Wounded"s drum n bass-ery appears almost a natural progression.
Whats strange is that, stripped of the rattling breakbeats and low frequency oscillations, the actual songs could sit happily on any Everything But The Girl album; its as if theyre totally unaffected by their environment. Still, the Spring Heeled Jack title track collaboration is a slow-burning masterpiece, better by far than the Omni Trio remix thats also pointlessly present (though the phased drum track at the end is quite groovy). Most of the rest feature beats built by Ben Watt (who also credits himself with abstract sounds), which, if understandably less ground-breaking and frenetic, are still sparse and restrained enough to not distract from the songs, which, like EBTGs best work, only reveal themselves fully after several hearings. Tracey Thorns lyrics are littered with more quotable quotes than ever, e.g. "If no-one calls and I dont speak all day do I disappear?", "You spend four nights a week looking for your inner child/What you gonna say when you find him?/Suppose once you wake him up he wont go back to bed and wants to stay up late watching TV?", and Ben Watts music, if a bit undistinguished at first, is deliciously subtle. (Full marks for sampling Tim Buckleys "Song To The Siren" on "Single"). But the thanks to list makes for the most interesting aspect of the record: present are various members of Massive Attack, Spring Heel Jack, Mark Eitzel (ex-American Music Club) and (wait for it!) Jeff Buckley!! (who duetted with them at Glastonbury last year, I think). As to whether the beats will make it to the next album I dunno, but we should enjoy them while they last.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL Labbatts Apollo, Manchester, 21/6/96
What better way to celebrate my last night in whats left of Manchester than a recital by popular at-the-cutting-edge-of-folk-jungle-fusion (wherever that may be) beat ensemble Everything But The Girl? Especially after the recent release of "Walking Wounded", the album that may prove to be their finest fifty minutes. Amazingly, EBTG seem to have managed to embrace full-on breakbeat hysteria without alienating their loyal Ikea-loving mid-30s following, probably because, whatever they do or dont have, theyre clearly in possession of a job lot of Class. Take tonights instrumental line-up for example: aside from Tracey (vocals, occasional guitars) and Ben (occasional vocals, guitars, synths, beard) the only other musicians present are a percussionist and a bald double-bassist. (Drum n bass without drums and with acoustic bass? Groovy!). Its only halfway through the concert that they are introduced as Martin Ditcham (whos played on albums by the mighty Talk Talk and The Beautiful South) and double-bass God Danny Thompson (John Williams, Tim Buckley, The The, Rod Stewart, Nick Drake, Julian Cope, Kate Bush and Talk Talk (again!)).
Opening with a respectable, if slightly lethargic, take on the New Man-haranguing "Big Deal", they drift through much of the new album, including the singles "Wrong" and "Walking Wounded" (both seamlessly extended amalgams of the originals and the Todd Terry and Omni Trio remixes respectively), but not the sublime "Good Cop Bad Cop", and the more danceable bits of their back catalogue, including "Driving" and "I Always Was Your Girl". Other highlights included Ben Watts wondrous "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing" wherein he totally fails to (appear to, at least) be patronising, for a change, and their Massive Attack collaboration "Better Things". Even so, the EBTG live experience is still more cerebral than physical, this being the first gig Ive been to in aeons that didnt have a mosh pit! They closed with the shimmering perfection of "Missing", and encored with a fabulous voice and guitar rendition of evergreen oldie "Fascination" to reassure us that they havent forgotten their bedroom balladeering roots. Long may they (fail to) bungle in the jungle.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL Temperamental (Virgin)
Tracey and Ben return with their first new material since 1996's excellent bedsit folk/drum and bass crossover album "Walking Wounded", and it's unfortunately about as bitter a disappointment as Everything But The Girl have proffered in their queasy 17 year career. Everything about "Temperamental" casts it as the work of shameless pseuds: check out the cover, for example, which blends crude Unkle-style graffiti artwork with the sort of typography that desperately wants to persuade you that you've just picked up some sizzling new white-label dubplate. Ben Watt remains the only man in popular music who credits himself with 'beats', 'scratches' and 'sound editing', whilst the music contained within "Temperamental" smacks of the work of someone who's spent the last few years listening to Goldie and Roni Size and is desperate for a slice of dance Mafia cred.
So there are few, if any, recognisable melodies, and rather more harsh beats, scratches, rhythms and jazz samples. This might be the flaw in "Temperamental"'s ointment: whereas even the most dancefloor-friendly moments of "Walking Wounded" could have been recast in any of Everything But The Girl's previous stylistic skins should the whim take them, the songs here seem to have been assembled from a big set of Lego-like dance music components rather than actually written or composed, and so there's very little that could be mistaken for substance here, despite modish titles like "Compression" and "Lullaby Of Clubland".
The best song on "Temperamental" is the closing Deep Dish collaboration, "The Future Of The Future (Stay Gold)", which first surfaced over a year ago on Deep Dish's also-not-fantastic-but-far-more-interesting-than-this debut "Junk Science". Otherwise, Everything But The Girl are cosily ensconced in the kind of artistic trough that their talent calls home between their sporadic great albums.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL Adapt Or Die Ten Years Of Remixes (Virgin)
Hardly a staggeringly timely release, not only does Adapt Or Die Ten Years Of Remixes have some bizarre ideas of what constitutes a decade, the self-compiled selections here spanning from 1990 to 2004, but it also seems like thin gruel to those of us now waiting six years and counting for a successor to their last proper long-player, the insubstantial Temperamental.
What Adapt Or Die is, as if it counts, is a belated, lukewarm reminder that Tracey and Ben were once, for about ten minutes, (in) the vanguard of coffee table drum n bass. Unfortunately, all that the relentless mixology displayed here appears to have done is to make songs like Before Today and Missing sound cluttered and faddish. The nervous, rattling beats that circle Fabios remix of Blame, for example, are very 1998. More delight can be squeezed from Corcovado, an Antonio Carlos Jobim cover rescued from a life of dusty obscurity on long-forgotten AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Rio, this collections biggest surprise, although the cumbersome Knee Deep Remix / Ben Watt Vocal Re-Edit suffix it now drags behind it betrays the possibly injurious work of many cooks.
A King Britt Scuba Mix of Rollercoaster becomes a balmy, lapping electro interlude, but, again, is furiously over-fussy compared to the streamlined source material. Initially, at least, Brad Wood breathes lightly upon Single albeit still only managing to make it different rather than conclusively better only to shatter its swaying, trancelike hold with some clunky percussion. Five Fathoms and Lullaby Of Clubland both retain the mellow and moody, bruised ennui that was arguably their last albums one unique quality. Perhaps not strictly a remix, the closing piano and vocal rendition of Driving recalls a far-off time when they were content just to seduce by songcraft, rather than dazzle with the hipster credibility of their guest list, making it perhaps the most satisfying selection here.