Everything But The Girl
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Typically, I can find at least one example of an artist I appreciate within every genre and subgenre of music, but there are certainly times when I can't. The last example of this was my look at Anita Baker and the "Quiet Storm" format of R&B. Unfortunately for British duo Everything But The Girl and its album "Walking Wounded," '90s pop-tronica (a term that I made up but will unabashedly abuse) is another genre that I struggle to find redeeming factors within.
The ultimate example of this genre was the briefly-popular Italian group Eiffel 65, famous for its huge hit "Blue (Da Ba Dee)." This example is a bit dramatic, but illustrates some of the worst points in "pop-tronica." Like "Quiet Storm," it all comes down to the backing instrumentals being boring. In my opinion, the programmed snare used heavily in the trip-hop and drum 'n' bass movements popular in Europe at the time, have even less personality than the 808 drum machines used in early hip-hop.
Everything But The Girl is as big a victim of this as any. Many of Ben Watt's programmed breakbeats are gentle to the point that they'll appeal to huge audiences (the "pop" aspect) but it's hard to imagine them as club-worthy, especially in comparison to purer forms of electronica. Songs like "Before Today" and "Wrong" really sum up the era for me. Granted, the album includes a remix of "Wrong" by British DJ Todd Terry (a version that became more popular than the original) and the title track, which both feature quicker beats, but nonetheless it's tough to find any soul in this music.
There is some soul to be found in the lyrics of vocalist Tracey Thorn however (unlike Eiffel, there's no autotune in this effort). Much like Baker's work, the inorganic nature of the backing instrumentals are somewhat redeemed by the talented vocalist. Thorn isn't a powerhouse by any means, but she can carry a lovely melody, and her voice carries a trace of hurt that reflects the themes of loneliness that pervades "Walking Wounded."
All in all, Thorn's qualified vocals can't make up for the lack of feeling present in the music, just as Baker's vocals couldn't save her album "Rapture." For my money, Thorn's contributions would be better appreciated in a more modern electronic setting, or even moreso with traditional instrumentation (which EBTG used to do on previous albums; "Walking Wounded" is its sixth), but the acoustic guitar only makes one understated appearance in "Mirrorball." Oh well. Too late to do anything about it now. I'm just going to stick with Aphex Twin for my '90s electronica fix for the time being.
INTERESTING FACT: The duo got its name from a furniture store in its native Hull, which featured the catchphrase: "For your bedroom needs, we sell everything but the girl."