Over the last few weeks it’s been hard to avoid the excitement of the return of Everything But The Girl, and their latest release Fuse after a 23 year hiatus as a group.
Everything But The Girl are one of my favorite stories in music. Together in a relationship (both as creatives and as a couple) since their teens and releasing music since 1984, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have walked a fine line with the music business and fame. They have been able to continuously make music whilst keeping their lives as separated as possible from the industry, fame and its pressures as possible whilst still being present. Before putting ETBTG on hold in 2000, they amassed 12 top 40 singles and 11 top 40 albums.
Fans interest in what Tracey and Ben have done together and on their own (at least in name) is like a train journey with multiple stops allowing their fans to jump on an jump off at different destinations as they have traveled through jazz, folk, pop, indie and dance influenced releases. Some destinations similar to the others, some very different. Brother Joseph is heavily vested in their earlier releases as his parents were fans. My journey started after I hopped on just after ‘Missing’ which has resulted in a journey less about the group and more about both Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn’s solo works through Ben’s community of Buzzin’ Fly and Tracy Thorne’s rare but effective collaborations with the likes of Tiefschwarz on ‘Damage’ and later four critically acclaimed solo albums. Both have had thoroughly successful individual journeys but have always been underpinned by the history of EBTG.
I’m mindful that I’m not delving too deep into the history of the group, but this article in the Guardian is worth a read.
Through both their musical efforts and also literary efforts there is little doubt in their creative talents which has allowed them to continue to stay present since first gaining recognition in the mid 80’s. Intertwined in their own creative paths and raising a family has always been Watt’s rare autoimmune disease Churg-Strauss syndrome. Those who follow Watt in socials would have had an insight into his forced isolation from his family throughout lock down which resulted in Thorn re-visiting the idea of EBTG and their collaboration. After some persuasion, Watt and Thorn started to create their long awaited follow up to 1999’s ‘Temperamental’. When it was finished, Thorn nonchalantly posted on twitter about it ahead of going out for dinner, whilst the music trainspotters of the world went into meltdown. What would it be like? Both had released a wide range of music since the last album. If anything for me it brought on the realization that my history with Everything But The Girl was actually everything but as their individual work is honestly where my love of their music lies. In the build up to the album 4 singles were released which strongly laid out their stall for a much talked about return.
The lead off track of Fuse (which was also the lead single) ‘Nothing Else To Loose’ was championed by brother David as his track of the month on a recent This Is Not Happening podcast episode and is everything I wanted from a EBTG release. Thorn’s harrowing vocals float through a well-orchestrated music journey with strong hints of the Buzzin’ Fly Records releases that were always present in my record bag throughout most of the 2000’s. There is little doubt that the track will be a favorite for many throughout 2023 and beyond. ‘Run A Red Light’ and then ‘Caution In The Wind’ followed as singles as they do on the album. All three solid tracks that easily fell into non stop plays in our house.
‘When You Mess Up’ was the first song they wrote together when starting on this project which the Vulture review called ‘culture-war commentary delivered as motherly advice’, though Thorn highlighted that in fact that she wrote it in the voice of giving advice to herself. Where the track sits in the curation of the album tracks, it also reminds us that ETBTG have never been a one trick pony and are here to give as a wide spectrum of music that they want to make. ‘Time And Time Again’ carries classic ETBTG feels, as does ‘No One Knows We’re Dancing’ which was inspired by the lack of a dance floor community during the pandemic with nods to the packed Sunday clubs that Watt used to DJ in throughout the 2000’s. A space and time that I personally loved and miss.
As we delve into the second half of the album 4/4 pace of the album eases off as slow cords and distorted synths take you to a calm place with ‘Lost’ evoking a dreamy atmosphere whilst Thorn’s ever present raspy voice before ‘Forever’ brings back a slight pace and presents itself as one of the stand out tracks on the album. On ‘Interior Space’ the unimaginable happens; Thorn’s sacred vocals are process through auto-tune with and unexpected fascinating result. Rounding off the album is ‘Karaoke’, which chimes familiar tones of EBTG tracks of the past whilst Thorn delves into her mixed feelings surrounding performing live, sadly a hint of the reality of any of us seeing them live anytime soon is fairly unlikely.
Thorn said in a recent interview with the BBC “there are lots of recurring themes of desperately trying to connect with people and then [there are] dreamlike lyrics of being out in a club or in a bar. All this stuff bubbled up from those periods of isolation, where we just weren’t allowed to do the things we loved for a long period of time” which is evident in the album and the lyrics.
You could easily say that EBTG are a band that have always evolved and you would struggle to pigeonhole them. To me this release is a melting pot of their journey. EBTG have released an album which is so relevant to the current sound of music, pulling from their vast history of releases and seamlessly intertwining touch points of their past whilst moving forward. It feels that this release is an unintended perfection of timing in waiting for the world to catch up with them to release the album that listeners from all stops of their journey will appreciate and enjoy. I write this only a few days after the release, and there’s still a lot to digest throughout the album. I mentioned earlier that all of their albums have charted in the top 40, though none have got to number one. At the time of writing this, they are battling Enter Shikari for the top spot in the albums chart. It seems that perhaps I’m not the only one that thinks ‘Fuse’ was worth the wait, and their patience is already bearing fruit.