Happy 35th Anniversary to Everything But The Girl’s debut album Eden, originally released June 4, 1984.
Comprised of married couple Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, Everything But The Girl first appeared on my radar when they were guest contributors on The Style Council’s “The Paris Match” from their debut album Café Bleu (1984). That album’s influences can be heard throughout Eden, although Thorn and Watt definitely had a sound that was clearly their own.
Everything But The Girl’s career can be split into two very distinct phases with 1990’s The Language of Life being the beginning and more commercially successful second half. Eden ushered in the first phase of their career with a style that was imitated by groups like Swing Out Sister and Matt Bianco, but Thorn’s unmistakable vocals distinguished the group from their contemporaries. Many devotees of Everything but the Girl, myself included, have a preference for the duo’s pre–1990 days.
The aforementioned Café Bleu gave us a small glimpse of what was to come from Thorn and Watt. Eden more than delivered on their promise. Upon my first listen of the album, it immediately went into heavy rotation at home and when I was out and about, it was in my bag of cassettes I carted around when listening to my Walkman. Yes, I’m that old.
When I first heard Eden’s opening track “Each and Every One,” I remember thinking it had a chill feel that was reminiscent of the records my parents used to play when I was younger. It had that jazz inspired bossa nova flavor you heard from Astrud Gilberto records except Thorn’s alto vocals had a subtle power that drew me in, with lines like, “You tell me I can go this far, but no more / Try to show me heaven and then slam the door / You offer shelter at a price much too dear / And your kind of love’s the kind that soon disappears.” For that time, it was a modern day version of a torch song. “Each and Every One” was the only single released from the album and it reached #28 on the UK Singles Chart.
“Tender Blue” is a duet that expands the torch song theme even further and sounds like it should be heard in a smoky, dimly lit nightclub. It is one of several songs on Eden that touches on themes of relationships gone wrong, with the ease of a friend rehashing how things went so bad while reassuring you it’s going to be all right. When I went back and read the lyrics to “Tender Blue” all I could think of was how tragic the story is, yet Thorn’s delivery is breathtaking and seemingly effortless. She subtly paints a vivid picture with her words (“Touches her back but she doesn’t stir/Then round her hand his finger close/Feeling the ring that cost more than the car/All of those questions that never arose”).
Eden came along at a time when some of us needed a break from pop music & MTV. There was a void that needed to be filled that did not require heavy synthesizers, a slick music video and a major label financing it all. A friend of mine once told me, “Sometimes a motherfucker just wants to chill.” I understood exactly what he meant because Eden did that for me and it still does. I enjoy the ease in which one song flows right into another, regardless of whether or not the next song is more upbeat or not. “Another Bridge” and “The Spice of Life” follow “Tender Blue,” and each song has its own distinct sound, serving as a nice bridge to the second half of the album.
The song that made me a bona fide fan of Everything But The Girl was “Frost and Fire.” In 1984, I was a freshman at USC and I landed a radio show hosting gig at the student run radio station KSCR (now KXSC). I was placed in the music department and one of my duties was to listen to the new records that came in. I sat down and picked records from the pile. Eden wasn’t released in the US, but somehow the station got a copy. To this day, I have no idea why I played side 2 of the album first, but it sealed the deal for me.
“Crabwalk” and “Even So” open up with the former an instrumental that easily could have been the background music in a ‘60s black & white indie film. Once “Frost and Fire” played, I remembered that Thorn was the singer on “The Paris Match” from Cafe Bleu. I sat in the production room and played the entire album. My next stop was the record store in the mini mall across the street from the campus. They sold imports, so I knew my chances of getting a copy were great.
“Frost and Fire” is a great mix of guitar, congas, an organ and some killer lyrics, such as, “You’re still waiting for a knight in shining armour / To steal you against your will/And while you’re waiting and doing no harm / You know there’s plenty of time to kill / When you say you wouldn’t change a day / Makes me wonder where I went astray / Satisfied with things that leave me tired we’re as unlike as Frost and Fire.”
Not many can disarm you with such devastating lyrics like Tracey Thorn. Everything But The Girl will always be more universally known for their post 1990 output, but what they produced before then should never be ignored.
In 2012, Warner Brothers decided to re-release their first four albums with bonus tracks on each. Thorn and Watt were contacted by the label and they decided to get involved. It was the first time they had listened to that era of their music in years. “Listening back to our early records, you do have a sense of, ‘Gosh, well, I’m not really that person any more,’ Thorn confided to The Guardian that year. “Some of that stuff came out nearly 30 years ago. When you think about all the things that have happened in the interim, you do feel like you’re listening to the voice of a different person.” Watt added, “Eden was recorded with that fierce, adolescent spirit that everybody had at that time … Self-awareness is a dangerous thing: by about the third or fourth record, people were throwing comparisons at us and you have to be very tough to withstand it. And by the end of the ‘90s, we were playing to 5,000 people a night. I’d stand on stage, looking out, thinking, ’I don’t want to be this big.’”
Deep down, after their commercial triumphs of the mid to late ‘90s, I think Thorn and Watt have gained a greater appreciation for the chapters of their career that preceded their influx of success. At the very least, they learned to respect them. I know I do. Eden is an ’80s record that could’ve been made in the 60’s, but never sounds dated, not even today.