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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Everything But The Girl, "Idlewild"

Everything But The Girl
Blanco y Negro (1988)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

When we last visited our friends at Everything But The Girl, they were producing easygoing trip-hop music for listeners winding down from the jungle at clubs. This album, "Idlewild," actually came five albums and eight years before "Walking Wounded." The instrumentation is dramatically different, but the attitude is the same.

I labeled "Walking Wounded" as a pop album, despite its electronic approach. Listening to "Idlewild" demonstrates that I wasn't too far off. In 1988, Everything But The Girl operated in the realm of "adult alternative," and its electronic aspects were no more than the occasional '80s synth. Ben Watt, the guy behind the production on "Wounded," handles the guitars here. Most of the other instrumentation follows a lounge music theme, in line with a good deal of ad-alt. A piano and upright bass keep things cool, and an occasional saxophone solo leads the songs out.

The format is a tremendous plus for vocalist Tracey Thorn, lesser known than Sarah McLachlan but operating with the same voice, a mezzo that's vaguely happy in its sadness. "I Don't Want To Talk About It" was the big single, but album closer "Apron Strings" best exemplifies Thorn's ability, mainly because she's accompanied only by Watt's acoustic guitar.

If you recall, I found "Wounded" to be a boring album. Most human beings find adult alternative to be a boring genre. So yes, I find "Idlewild" boring. It had potential however. There's a degree of charm in the lounge approach, but this album is overlong and flirts with cliche. The record features 12 tracks, cutting several of which would make for a great improvement. My suggestions for trimming would be "Oxford Street" and "Goodbye Sunday," two of the more cliched songs. "Oxford" is another bittersweet reminiscence of youth and "Goodbye Sunday" is another regret that the weekend is over; both overused tropes in any genre.

The best writing is Watt's "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing," where the guitarist also makes his only lead vocal appearance. What begins as another reminiscing track takes an unexpected turn for the cynical, and plays away from the expected verse-chorus structure.

I may just find the appeal in Watt's track because of my own cynicism, and the general distaste for adult alternative that comes with it. This is a better album than "Walking Wounded," with less boredom to go around. But alas, still boredom.

INTERESTING FACT: Single "I Don't Want To Talk About It" was written by Danny Whitten, a guitarist for Neil Young's cohorts, Crazy Horse. Take that, those that label Crazy Horse as Young's lackeys!

Apron Strings by Everything but the Girl on Grooveshark

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