When discussion centres on Everything But The Girl (apart from the story of how they took their name from a bedding shop in Hull), it normally ends up referencing their two distinct periods – before “Protection” (the trip-hop single Tracey made with Massive Attack) and afterwards when Ben Watt discovered house, drum and bass and breakbeats. As such, these are best exemplified by the acoustic debut “Eden” and the equally sparse “Walking Wounded”.
You are left with the impression of a rather downbeat band with a gloomy outlook on life especially when you throw in the lovelorn classic “Missing”.
I like both of these “periods” but where does this recording fall then. It has to be their sunniest and most optimistic record – there’s none of the space found in the early recordings nor the starkness of “Walking Wounded” and beyond. It is joyously orchestral and wonderfully uplifting kicking off with the splendid waltz (yes… waltz) of “Come On Home” which has all the élan of Dusty Springfield at the height of her powers, whilst “Come Hell Or High Water” could easily be Patsy Cline.
In fact, the 60s influences are all over this album from the kitsch sleeve to Ben’s ‘Revolver-ish’ backward guitar on “Don’t Leave Me Behind” and I would imagine some Jimmy Webb had been on the turntable while ideas for the album were being conceived.
And all of this is without mentioning the fantastic 60s homage and tribute to Marilyn Monroe that is “Sugar Finney” whose lyrics have all the depth and darkness of a James Ellroy novel, suffocated with strings and stabbed with horns.
However, the skill in this (their third album) was that so many of the earlier successful themes of their previous albums – especially “Love Not Money” – were ditched to create a wholly different recording. Gone were the political themes – excepting “Little Hitler” – and instead the familiar hopelessly romantic themes that were to become so prevalent in the next few albums.
Is there anything I don’t like on the album?
I do find the abrupt change on “Little Hitler” from orchestral crescendo to acoustic coda very puzzling and for me confuses what should be a really fine end to an album. But this a surprising album from a surprising band so perhaps the joke’s on us.
That said, I can put up with anything for “Cross My Heart” my favourite EBTG song of all time and there’s is a truly impressive songbook. Bacharach and David would be proud of this. And yet it’s a desperately sad (I’m going to say lovelorn again -sorry) tale of discarded love and ‘mental stalking’ – revisited 8 years later to global acclaim on “Missing” – set to a sunny San Jose string-driven rhythm with girl-group backing. Honey for your ears.
The bonus disc highlights are some great covers which of course reaffirm the album’s influences – Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” and Glen Campbell’s “Where’s The Playground Susie” – and keep the drama of the whole recording intact.
Look – I love Everything about Everything But The Girl.
All the albums, all the styles, all the experiments – a genuinely distinctive voice like Tracey Thorn’s ensures you could forgive just about any musical misdemeanour.
But this is my favourite.
For sound. For songs. For sheer pleasure.
Next time, you’ve decided to play your new Adele album (not that there is anything wrong with that) for the umpteenth time (which there is) why not give yourself a change and let the Stars Shine Bright.
Because they will.