The last decade’s darlings put on a fresh face, and a new beat
At PANYC, a salon on West 15th Street, it took only minutes into the new Everything But the Girl release before four hairdressers, the wash boy, a blonde and brunette client and a visiting handyman were grooving. As each new remix or re-released track flooded through those high-quality speakers, murmurs of, “Girl, I used to love that song!” rose over the snips of scissors.
The new album “Adapt or Die: 10 Years of Remixes” by these musical darlings of the 1990s—married couple Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn—gives a fresh sound to the songs we danced our asses off to back when some of us were a little thinner. By combining previously unreleased mixes and remixing other hits with a nod to the Brazilian style now popular, Everything But the Girl manages to present a highly listenable party album.
Several of the remixes, great in their original incarnation, are now absolutely flawless hits. “Walking Wounded” is a pure trance experience, a sad and elegant cry to love. “Lullaby of Clubland” rocks you, but not to sleep. Its repetitive, Massive Attack, suave sound evokes the feeling of being at a dance club at 2 a.m. This is likely due in part to Thorn’s past collaboration with Massive Attack on their hit album “Protection.”
“Temperamental,” with its ominous beginning, is a deep track. Thorn sings, “This temperamental trick, the one you say you can predict, you are like an empty cup, forgive me if I don’t wait up. I don’t get where you’re coming from, what’s real and what’s put on…” The song vacillates between “I want you to love me,” and “I don’t want you to love me,” in an all too familiar sad pas de deux.
“Wrong,” one of the most popular Everything But the Girl songs, keeps its ‘90s feel, with the catchy lyrics, “Wherever you go I will follow you, cause I was wrong.” Ditto for “Missing,” with its unforgettable lyrics, “And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain.” Not a bad song, but almost impossible to listen to without thinking of old Saturday Night Live skits featuring Chris Kattan as sexy gigolo “Mango.”
Another old favorite is “Before Today,” a sassy track that demands, “I want your love/ and I want it now.” Calling for “no more games,” the song defers at the end to “I want you to shut your mouth, that would be enough.”
And though it’s easy to love the familiar, several of the album’s remixes give a new spin that’s even more endearing. In the fourth track, “Corcovado,” the retro, but so au courant Brazilian sound is omnipresent. There is no question that this remix rocks, but did Everything But the Girl have to go straight from a heavy percussion intro to Spyro Gyra-worthy brass breaks? Nevertheless, this big, bold song takes you on a highly enjoyable trip.
Acoustic remixing takes a turn on several tracks, including the opening track, “Mirrorball.” This slow, soulful urban mix, courtesy of DJ Jazzy Jeff, feels like listening to Sade on a Sunday afternoon. The piano cascades like acoustic waterfalls.
The same sound resurfaces on “Blame,” a tune that moves discordantly, like the D train over the Manhattan Bridge. Thorn sings, “Who’s your daddy now, and where’s your home? You’re living somewhere new, you think you’d take me, too.” The final track, “Driving,” also gets an acoustic patina, with soft, mellow instrumentals paired with the lyrics, “I’ll come driving fast as wheels can turn.”
A Natalie Merchant feel rises out of “Rollercoaster,” which clicks you up sure enough, but leaves you waiting for the plunge—although lyrics like, “I want to spend large amounts of time in my room,” do the job well enough.
The music of Everything But the Girl seems to exist in a dreamy, mist-shrouded half-world, somewhere between reality and fantasy. If you are wistful for a time when the economy was strong and the only crisis in the White House had to do with a troublesome stain on a cheap blue Gap dress, this album will definitely soothe your soul.
And if “Adapt or Die” is your first experience with Everything But the Girl—well, lucky you!