Updated: May 10
Everything But The Girl’s debut Eden is one of the albums I’m most familiar with. I’ve listened to it so many times I know every hook, melody and lyric almost instinctively. I can’t remember now how or why I picked up on them, because at the time I had some of the very rockist tastes Tracey Thorn set herself resolutely against from the outset, but I do remember buying pretty much everything they put out up to 1990’s The Language of Life album, and loving Tracey’s voice.
Some of the attraction was that they were clever – the lyrics and the arrangements – but it wasn’t just a cerebral thing. EBTG made music that moved us. Reading this book was also a reminder of some great days growing up, and of some classic tracks I haven’t played in a long time.
Mine, for example, released on a 3-track EP after that first album, is as moving and sharply observed a song as you’re ever likely to hear. It’s sat, with the rest of my vinyl in a (fingers crossed) well-sealed box in the loft for too long, and it’s been an almost daily treat on my iPhone playlist ever since I gave in and downloaded it.
Reading this book provides lots of moments like that, reigniting memories of some great songs and bringing back the feel of some great evenings such as the band on the bill at what turned out to be Orange Juice’s farewell gig in 1985, a benefit for the striking miners at Brixton Academy that also featured The Wooden Tops and Aztec Camera.
EBTG don’t seem the most obvious punk heroes, but what courses strongly through the book is the punk ethos of do it yourself and not selling out. One of the most interesting strands here is how Thorn and Ben Watt deal with a situation in which they seem to be growing away from the punk ethos but rediscover it in the most unlikely ways.
One of my favourite stories is how Thorn wrote the lyric for Protection, the track she sang on Massive Attack’s second album and which remains one of my all-time favourite tunes. If you’ve never turned this on loud, laid full-stretch on the floor and let this wonderful piece of music wash over and envelop you, you haven’t lived. That collaboration was important in the pair reassessing and rediscovering themselves, and in providing the fertile new direction EBTG followed after a gap in their work caused by Ben contracting Churg-Strauss syndrome. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read Ben’s book, Patient, about this episode, you should.)
I’ll admit that, while I liked Missing (the band’s biggest ever hit) I never quite embraced the band in the chillout and then dance stages as much as I had over the first four albums. There were, if I’m recalling correctly, a number of reasons. I’d been a bit disappointed by The Language of Life – it struck me as a bit too middle of the road for where I was at the time – and that seemed to establish EBTG as a band that I used to like who now produced the odd song I liked. Over the past few months I’ve been rectifying my mistake, partly prompted by picking up on Thorn’s entertaining tweeting, and I’ve also discovered her solo albums Out of the Woods and Love and its Opposite and love them both.
I approached the book with a little trepidation because much had been made of its ordinariness. It’s not ordinary at all, its quality is that it is written without pyrotechnics, with wit, warmth and genuine passion, reminding us that pop stars are people too.