Wednesday, May 25, 2011

83. Everything but the Girl, "Wrong" (1996)


Everything but the Girl is a long-time collaboration between singer Tracey Thorn and keyboard/guitar player Ben Watt, a British act much in the vein of other couple acts from the '80s such as Yaz or Eurythmics. In many ways they got lost in the welter of '80s synthesizers and bombast, but lived on to play another day in the '90s when they found themselves more or less naturally, if surprisingly, aligned with trip-hop flavorings of electronica. As with the Pet Shop Boys or Madonna, much of their best later work exists in the form of multiple mixes, much of which is worth chasing down because it nearly always has the sturdy foundation of solid songwriting with a memorable vocal performance gliding across the top. Thorn has a big voice, with sources located equidistant between soul and lounge, a place she occupies with poise and comfort. The 1985 album Love Not Money was my introduction and I'm not sure still that it isn't their best; it's certainly fine. By the time this came my way, once again via CMJ, they had turned more toward the electronics. But Thorn's voice is what it is, an old-school instrument, and so everything she records comes with a certain amount of warmth and stirring depth. This is my favorite example of how they work those tensions to their advantage. I've already made the joke about becoming the singer once you're learned to sing the song (twice, in fact: with Buddy Holly and then with Prince), so I'm afraid of being arrested by the trope police if I try that again. But I will point out that Thorn's phrasing here, her timing in and around the soft-pedaled furry and metallic beats, is deceptively tricky business, harder than it seems, and I was pretty happy with myself once I got it down and could sing along note for note, notably when I figured out how to get the "'cos I was wrong" right.

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