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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Everything But the Girl May 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It’s reasonable to suggest that almost anyone who has read Bedsit Disco Queen will agree that Tracey Thorn can write, and her account of her career is excellent. Curious, though. In some ways the personality of Ben Watt, her partner, remains remarkably opaque throughout. Indeed thinking back on it Lindy Morrison and Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens (or even Eric Heffer!) loom larger as personalities in the text. Perhaps that is as it should be – this is primarily her story after all – or perhaps that opacity is a testament to a certain form of reserve

Though I should add that it in no way comes across as egocentric, quite the opposite. She’s refreshingly honest about her own foibles and the high and low points of her career. And also, having read numerous music autobiographies (to my shame), it’s extremely good on the nuts and bolts of what life on the road is actually like, and in some ways the most honest account of how distorting that can be. In any event it’s a lovely book and highly recommended.

Anyhow, as is the way of these things it got me thinking about doing a Marine Girls or Everything But the Girl post in this slot. The first will have to wait, but here’s the second. I’m very partial to their later drum’n’bass stuff and the early material is good, but truth is my favourite album of theirs is Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. In a way that’s arguably their most bombastic outing, strings, big pop, and as it happens I’m not usually a huge fan of same. Sure, a bit is okay, I’ll throw on the occasional My Life Story album although usually as much for the nostalgia as the actual songs. But B,tSSB has stayed in my musical imagination for many many years after I purchased it.

I first acquired it on vinyl second hand fairly soon after it came out – I think in Freebird. It wasn’t a particular stretch for my musical collection – even at the time, the singles were appealing, though Come on Home while a lovely song was surely the very definition of overplayed. But the other songs were as good or better. Thorn has a remarkable way with her ability to craft and shape lyrics and infuse them with genuine emotion. And Watt was surely never better employed than in the months (according to her account in the book) putting together the landscape of strings that the songs were set against – indeed the thought strikes that that might well have been useful practice for the strings that accompanied later, somewhat more experimental, excursions like Walking Wounded.

And those other songs mentioned above are the ones where it really takes off. Sugar Finney – about or ‘for’ Marilyn Monroe – moves along with an elegant speed power by horn stabs and a neat vocal – as well as some wah-wah guitar (indeed speaking of guitar Watt, I’m very taken with his guitar on this album which at times achieves a near rock approach). Little Hitler is political, and not. Careless is a perfect ballad with a great swooping chorus with an entertaining nod, or more than nod, to Bacharach (who by the by must be one of the most morose composers I can think of).

I always think EBTG are a perfect example of how important ideas are in music. Famously they agonised for years about selling out and hitched their star to that concept of awkward post-punk that drove straight towards the mainstream, whatever that last may mean, while attempting to retain a sort of intellectual and ideological credibility. One thinks of Scritti Politti and so forth. Whether it worked is a different matter, but I think the idea alone empowers the songs, not in a post-modernist ‘knowing’ sense, but in making them somehow more substantial.

It’s what makes this more than an empty genre excursion, turning it into something genuinely searching, and perhaps what powers the rest of their output. It’s why their later turn to more dance-inspired work saw them leapfrog over more obvious approaches to something that little bit more demanding both of them and their listeners. And why, I think, albums like Walking Wounded worked so well, that yearning quality Thorn captures so effortlessly, those swells of sound that accentuate and amplify that emotion.

Don’t Leave Me Behind

Careless

Sugar Finney

Little Hitler

Come on Home

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