It started with a Tweet. At the end of last year, Tracey Thorn – one half of electro sophisti-pop duo Everything But The Girl – let her followers in on a little secret, writing: “Just thought you’d like to know that Ben and I have made a new Everything But The Girl album. It’ll be out next spring.”
The opening “just thought”, combined with the tweet’s accompanying love-eye emoji, seemed to downplay the fact this new album in question is the duo’s first since 1999’s lounge dance record Temperamental. For those where maths isn’t a strongpoint: that’s 24 years ago.
By the time Thorn returned to her tweet later that evening, it’d received all the affection it deserved. Yet, remarkably, this was to the singer’s surprise, as she added: “Cannot believe this outpouring of love and support and joy.”
This response was nothing but humble. Everything But The Girl moved from folk-pop to electronic, helping set the British tone in both fields. With Thorn’s tranquil voice wrapping around the lavish production of her creative and romantic partner Ben Watt, the pair provided a distinctive sound that’s somehow both fresh and nostalgic to this day – and the ripple effects of which can be heard on contemporary acts like Jockstrap and Nightbus.
There’s no amount of irony that one of the defining Thorn tracks – which would help bring Everything But The Girl into the electronic mainstream a year after its release via their superb Walking Wounded album – was her guest feature on Massive Attack’s ‘Protection’. So soft, so recognisable, Thorn’s singing provides that protection in the form of comfort.
Everything But The Girl’s new album, Fuse, is decidedly dripping in contemporary electronic sounds. Just as the pair had promised in an NME interview at the start of the year, this isn’t a pair of has-beens grasping at new money for old rope. Instead, this future-facing record sees them picking up the baton which they first handed over almost a quarter of a century ago.
With those same floaty Thorn vocals ringing out, the whole album gives the impression of hearing a classic – a Talking Heads ‘This Must Be The Place’, say, or a Fleetwood Mac ‘Dreams’ – woven into the set of a contemporary DJ, a Palms Trax, or Shanti Celeste.
Lead single ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ pronounced this balance between nostalgia and the now, with a garage-like sound rippling beneath an oscillating bassline. The sense of release is realised with the lyrics “Kiss me while the world decays / Kiss me while the music plays”, conjuring a party when the end is nigh. The world might be burning around us, it beckons, so let’s at least have some fun as it does.
‘Caution To The Wind’, another prior single release, holds similar sway, as it builds from twinkling Floating Points-esque opener, through a metronomic clap, and out toward the catharsis of its title phrase. The verse lines “All the stars align / Shimmer and shine”, meanwhile, sounds unmistakably like dance master’s Hot Chip.
The pounding beat of ‘Forever’, the bubblegum house (were there such a term) of ‘Time & Time Again’, and the spacey sci-fi electronics of ‘No One Knows We’re Dancing’ all underlie the title of the latter tune: this slick record is very much one to dance to, loud and proud.
This sense of enjoying what we have left is added to by the wisdom of lyrics elsewhere. ‘Run A Red Light’ implores us to “Forget the losers, forget the morning / Put a tune on and put your feet up”, whilst album closer ‘Karaoke’ offers age-old wisdom to “Hit the highs and own the lows”. Age is just a number, yes – and both Thorn and Watt have 60 of them each – but that also comes with life experiences, which pours out into the words across this record.
All of this makes Fuse an album that isn’t just in it for the hedonism. In fact, a typical EBTG melancholy recurs throughout – a sense that’s often punctuated the duo’s output so effectively.
Even on Walking Wounded track ‘Wrong’ – later successfully remixed by house DJ Todd Terry, topping the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart in the process – there was sorrow in the chorus’ lyrics, “Wherever you go, I will follow you / ‘Cause I was wrong”.
With Fuse, there’s much slower stuff; as on shimmering, melodramatic ‘When You Mess Up’ and the sleepy haze of ‘Lost’, which sees Thorn reflect on the loss of her mother. But such additions are welcome palette cleansers, added sparingly in this tight, ten-minute project.
Overall, Fuse is about as masterful a comeback as you can conjure. Tracey Thorn should tweet more often; Everything But The Girl shouldn’t leave it another 24 years.