Amplified Heart, by Everything But The Girl
I first became familiar with this album in the spring of 1997 when I bought a cassette of the album while visiting Gatlinburg for an orchestra trip. The album struck me as being an emotive and powerful one that had a lot of songs that appealed to me as a teenager beyond the big hit from the album, “Missing.” Listening to it more than 20 years later, the album hits even harder, as an adult I can certainly relate to the material and see myself in the kind of place where the duo does as well. While I can’t say I’m familiar with the overall career arc of British sophistipop duo Everything But The Girl, it is clear that Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt had by the mid 90’s settled into a comfortable and very excellent pattern of making music as these songs are generally pretty spare acoustic numbers with lots of space for Tracey Thorn’s passionate and evocative singing and some solid beatwork that shows them at the cutting edge of bringing EDM into mainstream popularity. Those who like music that deals with troubled minds and troubled relationships and the longing for love in a fallen and imperfect world set to sparse instrumentation with occasional jazzy edges will find much to appreciate here. I know I do.
The album as a whole is a short one at only ten songs. Almost all of the songs are pretty similar in terms of their thematic material and approach. This is a coherent album that deals with relationship drama involved in what looks like a breakup or the period just after the breakup where two partners obviously love each other but struggle to deal with the drama that their relationship involves. This is obviously a relatable scenario and was when I was a teenager and remains so. None of the songs are bad, and a few of the songs on here are real standouts. Both of the band members have songs where their contrasting singing styles over the fantastic musical production by Watt works wonders–Thorn typically singing in a passionate and emotive way, especially on “I Don’t Understand Anything,” the ominous “Missing,” and “Get Me.” Watt works well singing on “25th December” and in duets on “Walking To You” and “We Walk The Same Line.” Overall this is a powerful album that really gets the reader to feel the struggle of loving imperfect people in a broken world.
What is perhaps most striking about this gem of an album is that it was not made with any apparent intention of being a hit. “Missing” is the sixth song on the album, and the album is not front-loaded with its potential singles. Instead it presents a rollercoaster of pleasant album songs and more powerful potential singles one after another, ending with a jazzy post-breakup note in “Disenchanted.” Nothing about the early part of the rollout of this album suggested a hit either, as neither of the first two singles hit the top 40 in the UK or the Hot 100 in the USA (where EGTG had never crossed over up to this time). But a dance remix of a song that already had some solid and ominous musical elements made the album a hit, and looking back it seems remarkable that this tasteful and emotionally resonant album was what put the group into the mainstream for both the UK and the US and gave the group a career on the US dance charts that lasted for two additional studio albums before the group took an extended hiatus to raise a family together. This is an album to cheer on, and to use to inspire reflective moments in dark times where the drama of life and relationships proves to be a challenge to handle.