Everything but the Girl – Idlewild 30 Years Later

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!

Purchase Idlewild:

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aLfie vera mella
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Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. As a means to further his passion for music, he formed the band haLf man haLf eLf. He now performs with another band, The Psychedelics. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He began writing album reviews for CrypticRock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf? His next planned literary endeavor is to publish the remaining parts of the anthology and his works on Poetry, Fantasy Fiction, and Mythology. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. He participates at various community events; and he explores the diverse cultural beauty of Canada whenever his schedule permits it. aLfie is a doting and dedicated father to his now ten-year-old son, Evawwen.

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