February 28, 2018 Everything but the Girl – Idlewild 30 Years Later
The music of the duo Tracey Thorn (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Ben Watt (guitars, vocals, Hammond organ, piano, horn arrangements), known as Everything but the Girl, is a fine example of a graceful and flawless transition from New Wave (synthesizer-oriented or guitar-driven Pop Rock) to Sophisti-pop (slow, soft, and melodic music with Smooth Jazz undertones). After all, this transformation is not an aberration in the world of the English band. Many of Everything but the Girl’s contemporaries pursued a similar sonic path – like The Blue Nile (“I Would Never”), China Crisis (“The Way We Are Made”), The Lotus Eaters (“Stay Free”), and Spandau Ballet (“Once More”). Everything but the Girl stretched it even further by dabbling also in Trip-Hop and Electronica in the latter part of their career.
Formed in 1982, in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, Everything but the Girl had managed to release ten studio albums, from 1984’s Eden to 1999’s Temperamental. They went on an indefinite hiatus in 2000, after performing their final show at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Subsequently, Thorn and Watt resumed their respective solo endeavors, which began in the early ’80s even before they forged their musical alliance.
Of the varied albums of Everything but the Girl, Idlewild remains the most revered and critically acclaimed. In fact, it was included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Released on a leap year, February 29, 1988, on Blanco y Negro Records in the U.K. and on Sire in the U.S., Idlewild opened with an equally poignant yet glossy and starry-eyed rendition of the 1971 Danny Whitten-penned song “I Don’t Want to Talk About It;” it peaked at number three on the U.K. Singles Chart. The soulful rhythm flowed smoothly into the ensuing percussive and jazzy “Love Is Here Where I Live.” The light turned brighter, and the sentiment less pensive, with the upbeat, staccato-driven “These Early Days.” Then there was what many regard as Everything but the Girl’s finest moment – the brooding, breezy, and heartrending ballad “I Always Was Your Girl,” whose saxophone interludes and cascading, nostalgic melodies have surely made it the youthful theme song of thousands of New Romantic lovers.
“Oxford Street” then followed in the same pulse and heartbeat: As if “there is no real world – we live side by side, and sometimes collide,” building on the cadence and melody of the preceding track – “like the changing hues, in the change of seasons, that leave you with no clues.” Perfect!
The jazzy, piano-oriented “The Night I Heard Caruso Sing” then took the listener to a quiet corner of a soft-lit lounge, with a glass of Blue Hawaiian, sipping while watching Watt play the piano and take his turn on the microphone. Afterwards, as the glasses got empty and the lights turned sharper, Thorn returned to the front, and she and Watt then launched into “Goodbye Sunday,” whisking a touch of R&B Pop and Modern Swing. With “Shadow on the Harvest Moon,” Thorn’s voice became even more wistful and Watt’s acoustic plucks more folky and rustic, conjuring images of James Taylor (“Fire and Rain”).
Moving forward, the driving tempo and dancey beat of “Blue Moon Rose” foreshadowed Everything but the Girl’s excursion to Electronica, which was fully realized in the duo’s 1994 album, Amplified Heart, particularly with its carrier single, the worldwide hit “Missing.” As the next track played, “Tears All Over Town,” the vibes then reverted to the overall Sophistipop predisposition of Idlewild.
The second-to-the-last song, “Lonesome for a Place I Know,” was a trip down the black-and-white memory lane of ’50s Traditional Pop, in the era of Doris Day (“I’ll Never Stop Loving You”), Ella Fitzgerald (“Cry Me a River”), and Patti Page (“Allegheny Moon”).
Finally, Everything but the Girl ended Idlewild with the pulsating thumps of the faintly jangly ballad “Apron Strings,” lacing up the mood with echoes of the opening track and wrapping up the album with finesse and seamless beauty.
Idlewild painted the sound of Everything but the Girl in their most independent and old-fashioned phase. Because it is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and also in anticipation of Thorn’s fifth solo album forthcoming in March, the time is doubly apt to revisit Everything but the Girl’s shining hour.
Now you can start talking about it and let the songs cast their soft shadow on the harvest moon. It is easier to break your heart than to fall in love; but with Idlewild, all’s well that ends well. Thirty years on, yet it remains a ballad of all times!
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