Saturday, April 28, 2018

Love Not Money (1985)

However Everything But the Girl may be regarded now—trip hop electronica, really? and key albums like Walking Wounded credited to Paul Oakenfold on Napster?!—it's probably useful to remember that the husband-and-wife duo has never been easy to pin down exactly. When they emerged in the '80s they bore labels like "smooth jazz," "lounge," and "sophisti-pop." From a distance, they resembled other pop duos of the time such as Yazoo, Eurythmics, and Soft Cell. They sounded like Sade filtered through Katrina & the Waves and seemed made for a world where Paul Weller presided as emperor. One feature of EBTG's career is this slight haze that constantly trails them, blurring precise definition. I didn't really come to Love Not Money until five years after the fact, when I started playing one or the other side of it in the mornings before work. They are both perfect 20-minute soundtracks for the beginning of a workday. Tracey Thorn's clarion voice is flooded with both sunshine and dark corners, despairing yet brimming with confidence—all right, just call it "soulful." The general attack is always snappy and horn charts, as they come along, are upbeat, even when it all goes to the doldrums somehow, as it often does. There's a sturdy depth to it—it became a morning album on and off for me for years. There's more to it than smoov novelty pop, though the songwriting and production tend in that direction—verse, chorus, bridge, along with the principles of melody, mood, arrangement (with many fine small points all over it, for example the bass on "Shoot Me Down"). It's altogether a good tension, a remarkable one. On the issue of the label, I think of Love Not Money as a new wave album and EBTG as a new wave act. I'll take the easy way out as usual on albums in the new wave branch and point to the choice of the one cover—in this case "Kid," the Chrissie Hynde song from the Pretenders' first album. It's a beautiful song, in the hands of either, about the awful, awesome weight and fragility of a new baby. The Pretenders sound nothing but happy about it, which does belie the words a little. Six years later, EBTG dragged it into their gorgeous morass with no further ado, slowing and stripping it down, transforming it almost into a dirge, which nonetheless releases in the most surprising ways, as on "All my sorrow, all my blues, all my sorrow." In the Pretenders version, the love for the kid really seems to transcend those feelings in the singer, but in the EBTG version the singer not only feels them but seems to sense they will only inevitably descend on the kid someday too. It's not as if she's bitter. She keeps a bright face—like you have to when you go to work. EBTG means everyone the best—or, as they say in "Are You Trying to Be Funny?": "May the bad things in life come in two and not threes."

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