DOING THINGS WITH STRINGS

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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.

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6 thoughts on “DOING THINGS WITH STRINGS

  1. I have slept uneasily on this post.

    I understand that you can enjoy BTSSB in isolation. I cannot understand that you can enjoy BTSSB in context. What was your original response when you first heard the album?

    Let me explain.

    Everything But The Girl’s original output was astonishing. A unique blend of English kitchen sink fused with continental rhythms, political grit and an unwillingness to pander to the opinion of the (then powerful) music press. I can chart a clear trajectory connecting ‘North Marine Drive’, ‘A Distant Shore’, the EBTG songs on the Cherry Red compilation ‘Pillows & Prayers’, ‘Eden’, ‘Everything But The Girl’ (the US release of ‘Eden’, with a different, even grittier B-Side) and ‘Love Not Money’). So far, so good.

    And then this.

    I couldn’t make sense of it. BTSSB is everything that you say it is, that much I agree. But then it is everything that the previous canon is not. And that is my problem with the album. It feels like a ‘Sell Out’ album and that is unfair. BTTSB is to EBTG what ‘New Labour’ was to Socialism. Make of that what you will.

    Pedant’s Corner:

    ‘Turners – Everything But The Girl’ was not just a bedding shop. The store sold all of the things a soon to be married couple would require for their new life together (including bedding). The wedding list could be purchased via ‘lay away’ so that, by the time the big day arrived, everything had been paid for. Everything, that is, but the girl. I can speak with authority on this – I lived 4 streets down from the store on Morpeth Street (my now wife and I also lived on the corner of Salisbury Street mentioned in ‘Easy As Sin’).

    Don’t replace your Adele with Baby The Stars Shine Bright. Go Straight to ‘A Distant Shore’ and do not pass go.

  2. Tony, another magical blog for which I thank you many times over. I never really got into EBTG when they were in their pomp…always thought they were a bit dour, a bit of a female House Martins but those two tracks, and I must check out that album (I did download Simply Red’s ‘Picture Book’), they are great. You know me, a soppy sod, tears in my eyes listening to ‘Cross My Heart’, not heard it before, you know that it is SO me – I love it. Terrific blog, thanks again!

  3. I love this album, its what music is all about ups downs swings and shifts.
    Don’t leave me behind was a heavily airplayed track 86-87 in th uk, yet it scraped on the 70’s in chart position, yet lots know it, funny thing that.
    I don’t care about analysing it, its just a great album.

  4. Just stumbled upon this as I was looking up some EBTG stuff online – such a beautiful coming together of the ideas, sounds and influences of Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. It’s a magnificent album that I’ve returned to over and over again as the years have passed. With the re-release, I was enthralled with the demos, to see Ben’s working process and songwriting. It was fascinating to see how they constructed this album. I agree that it is in many ways a departure from their usual sparse gloominess (which I’ve also loved with a passion) but what an amazing departure! I’m glad to know some love this record as much as myself.

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