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Everything But The Girl
The Language Of Life, Worldwide, Amplified Heart Ian Wade , December 23rd, 2013 06:18

When I spoke with Ben and Tracey in 2012, back when they reissued their first four albums – Eden, Love Not Money, Bay The Stars Shine Bright and Idlewild, they seemed unsure that any more re-releases would follow, and what sort of extra treats they could put on. Sure enough, having done quite well and reawakened people to the duo's very fine catalogue, that it seemed obvious to complete the reissue programme with the rest of their albums for Warners. By their own admission, these albums mark a mid-period of oddness for the duo, with them concentrating on America and focusing on moving their sound into new uncharted areas.

1990's The Language Of Life has a pedigree of names such as producer Tommy Lipuma, and guest appearances from jazz legends Stan Getz and Michael Brecker, and the results are as polished as that pedigree is known for. A sheen that's worked before for the likes of George Benson and Anita Baker, sound like they’ve airbrushed the EBTG of Idlewild into a glossier, almost Simply Red affair. But, no, come back. This doesn’t make you want to rip your ears off. Everything's impeccable, polished and smooth, and there are some fantastic songs such as 'Driving', 'Meet Me In The Morning' and 'Imagining America'. In among the extras and live bonuses and remixes (for instance, the Masters At Work re-swizzle of 'Driving', points at the band’s future gravitational pull to the rave-up), there’s Stan Getz's alternate whole take of 'The Road', which is mournfully lovely.

The self-produced Worldwide from 1991 seems to carry on the slickness from Language of Life, but on a smaller scale. While no major stand-out numbers on the album per se, songs like 'Frozen River', 'Boxing' and 'Pop Music' and 'British Summertime'. They've collected together the acoustic covers EPs on disc two, with the hit 'Love Is Strange', along with an impeccable 'Tougher Than The Rest', a gorgeous 'The Only Living Boy In New York' and their take on Sonic Youth’s 'Kotton Krown' unearths the amazing song that is from beneath the din. There's also the polite original of 'I Didn’t Know I Was Looking For Love', which unbeknownst at the time, would help them edge even further to the dancefloor later on in the decade. Also, as a sidebar, it was in 1992, during the release of these EPs, that Ben had a life-threatening experience when he contracted Churg-Strauss syndrome (his book Patient is brilliant, if a bit blimey).

1994's Amplified Heart harks back to the duo's origins, being primarily an album of acoustic soul with chunky folk chops with Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson and Dave Mattacks all helping out, sprinkled with a sheen of futurism by John Coxon. There's a feeling of renewal and warmth that comes through on tunes such as '25th December', 'I Don't Understand Anything' and a cowbell-assisted original of 'Missing'. Obviously with a future Billboard No.2 and Top 3 UK hit onboard, the ever-celebrated 'foresight' of the record company saw fit to not renew the band's contract (the clots). But as we know now, Ben and Tracey have had the last laugh as regards that to the tune of over three million sales, and it sparked their next evolution on 1996's utterly tremendous Walking Wounded.

Once you've laid out the whole of the EBTG discography, you'll be able to see an outfit who've gradually evolved and moved on through a myriad of styles, possibly much more than you've noticed before, and there's a thread that connects them all. There are some good bits and pieces to be found on these albums, and they are essential inasmuch as you can connect the dots between, if you will, phase one and phase three. However, newcomers would be advised to start from the beginning and see it all unfold, rather than get their first taste of Everything But The Girl on these.

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