Album Reviews

Everything But The Girl – Fuse

(Buzzin' Fly) UK release date: 21 April 2023

Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt’s first album in 24 years faces off chilly delicacy with radio-friendly tracks, with mysteries and subtleties to discover that demand repeat listens

Everything But The Girl - Fuse Back in the ’90s, a review proposed that what made Pulp Fiction great was, not the playfully intertwined plots, the grittily witty dialogue, or Samuel L Jackson’s righteous sideburns, but the fact that it made a ’50s-themed diner look cool, when everyone knows they’re rubbish. Perhaps that was not such a cute trick as inspiring schoolkids to quote Ezekiel, but it’s a good point. You get a similar feeling with Karaoke, the elegant closer of Everything But The Girl‘s neat 10-track comeback album Fuse, which paints a karaoke bar as a glorious hub of emotionally healing communion and creativity, an artistic hothouse, the Bauhaus with backing tracks.

Our actual experience might tell us that these places are either drably depressing or boozily brash, but it crumbles in the face of Tracey Thorn’s cool certainty. Elsewhere on the album there are apotheoses of musical micro-events, from an after-hours lock-in session in a tiny venue on Run A Red Light to a euphoric get-together on No One Knows We’re Dancing. This latter track beautifully paints characters from a dancefloor demimonde with a few spare biographical strokes, and it’s easy to visualise the arrival of Fabio, “parking tickets litter his Fiat Cinquecento” (perhaps Everything But The Girl were reminded of urbane soul boy “Guy from Camden Town” sketched in Five Get Over Excited by fellow Hullensians The Housemartins).

This celebration of minuscule moments might not convince if it weren’t done with such elegant sang froid. Thorn’s vocals on this album are possibly her best ever, a detached jazz-smoke contralto that sounds like a wryly introspective Sade, or Swing Out Sister with a doctorate. Her soft whispers are like someone rustling a manila envelope, and she makes dignified hushed pronouncements like Lana Del Rey as suburban Brit. She also enunciates immaculately throughout, so play this album to your crotchety great-uncle who says that you can’t understand a word that pop singers are saying nowadays.

But despite the attention given to the vocal delivery and the knottily poetic lyrics – “It’s the bar-take, not the door-split” is like something from early Simon Armitage – the album isn’t precious, adding some deliberately jarring Burial-style effects, coating Thorn in digital tape wobbles and pitch shifts. This is EBTG’s first album for 24 years, and it sounds as though the fuzzy vocal line to Interior Space has been stored under the bed the whole time, gathering dust, pet hair and the odd spider corpse. There’s a chilly delicacy to much of this album, with Lost’s slow layers of pseudo-gamelan synth lines coming off like Japan if they’d never unlocked the dressing-up box, and Interior Space hiding an icy starkness in the centre of almost cheesily emotional piano, just as Angelo Badalamenti did on the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

Of course, this is an EBTG album, not a experimental electro-chanson song cycle, and there are radio-friendly tracks too. Anyone who has ever sat staring at their overpriced bottle of beer in a shiny bar whilst Missing wafted politely across the room will find tracks like Time And Time Again and Forever rather too nice. The first three track titles – Nothing Left To Lose, Run A Red Light, Caution To The Wind – seem to promise the kind of Dionysian rock abandon that would have Lemmy edging surreptitiously towards the exit, but Fuse could comfortably be played in any high street coffee shop without causing anyone to splutter into their cappuccino foam.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the more prominent the beats, the less exciting the song. But this is Fuse’s secret victory: if you don’t pay attention, it’s harmless background fluff, yet if you concentrate there are mysteries and subtleties to discover that demand repeat listens. And, tuneful though they may be, these spare and spacious laments would be bloody hard to pull off at karaoke.

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