EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL
Fuse (Buzzin Fly/Virgin)
MORE DANCEFLOOR ADJACENT than dancefloor ascendent, but connected at a molecular level to nights that last into the day, Fuse is an album that ponders while on the move, that sees (thoughtful) physicality and (emotional) intelligence entwined.
A return as a duo for the first time in 24 years, Everything But The Girl navigate a path through the solo tours of Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn as shadings and expansions of what we might recall of EBTG. There is intimacy not just in the stories (personal at times; close quarters storytelling more often) but in the vocal tone, there is rhythm as a constant, but not a fixed point, while organic and non-organic sounds have more equal footing.
This isn’t brand new then, but it is far too nimble, too interesting, to be stuck in the familiar either in what becomes an exploration of connections rather than disconnections.
Even at its most kinetic, like the singles Nothing Left To Lose and Caution To The Wind, and Forever, this record feels like it is rising to the moment rather than imposing that moment on us. For example, Watt and Thorn skirt the central pulse of Caution To The Wind, sending firstly handclaps then dashes of mechanised sounds, like exploratory advances, before a solid drum firmly enters at 90 seconds and they full commit at the two minute mark.
This commitment though – or the need, as it is in the fracturing beats/burdened-sky nights/urban squelch Nothing Left To Lose, where she asks to be held and kissed “while the world decays … while the music plays” – is for engagement not surrender.
“All the stars align/Shimmering, shining” Thorn sings. “Caution to the wind/Let me in, let me in”, as she’s home from a club, a glow of satisfaction felt in her tone if not necessarily seen in the dark where “the sky is a cathedral”. This post-clubber – old enough to have someone to come home to; young enough in spirit to seek something beyond the home – wants in to share the mood, not keep it to herself.
In the fairy lights glow that illuminates No One Knows We’re Dancing, low impact House keyboards, spinning synths and crispy percussive snaps elaborate a kind of Euro Spring of release that comes with its own layer of premature nostalgia. It’s populated by boys driving Fiat Cinquecentos, vodka-and-cola shop girls, bar keeps and suburban kids, “all trapped in a feeling” of freedom and unity. “It’s 5pm on Sunday, no one knows we’re dancing/Outside the sun is blinding/No one knows we’re dancing.” Again, this is about what is shared or what needs to be shared, linked to but a step beyond the more insular bonding Everything But The Girl drew on about 30-odd years ago when Thorn sang “I always was your girl/It will always be you and me against the world”.
Even in Lost, a slowly unwinding tallying of relationships, engagements and a sense of self suddenly, maybe brutally, unmoored (set adrift in a sea of tip-tapping percussion and synths that recall Before And After Science-era Eno) there is somehow a touch of comfort in the sympathy afforded and the sonic surrounds. Yes, even if nothing or no one is promised saving.
You could argue it is there too in the way that the internal dialogue of When You Mess Up – somewhat mimicking contemporary public discourse, with voices correcting and confiding, advising and resisting: “in a world of microaggressions … forgive yourself” versus “I hate people when they give me advice” – exists in a kind of heavy airiness where the piano at first seems to be leading Thorn’s voice. But it soon becomes clear that in fact the piano is tethered to it in this atmosphere that becomes thinner, harsher, the occasional distortions on the vocals like shifting reception on the radio. Each grounds the other, then holds the other as the song drifts away into the ether.
To a certain extent, the existential chickens finally come home to roost in the penultimate track, Interior Space, where echoing distant guitar and piano criss-cross brittle drum sounds and vocals that drift through shades of clarity to fuzziness. “My head is an alien place,” Thorn declares with defeat. “I never could cry, or wonder why.”
There is no softening of the blow here for a listener, no comfort in a hand or home close by, for this lost soul. It’s like the past three years narrowed down to one long moment: cooling imperceptibly, and then irrecoverably; nothing changing obviously, and then everything changed irrevocably. Set adrift with no memory bliss.
Except, maybe the question isn’t who has not been saved but rather who might yet be drawn back to safe harbour. In an album where all things – buoyant or bereft – are tempered, that is the thickest line of hope. After all, “what is left to lose? Nothing left to lose.”
READ ABOUT the reforming of Everything But The Girl and the making of Fuse in a three-part interview with Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, starting here.
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Everything But The Girl – Fuse