It’s been seven years since Everything But The Girl released their last album proper, 1999’s Temperamental. The duo of Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn has since then adopted a low profile. So low, in fact, that I suspect that Out of the Woods, Tracey Thorn’s first solo album in over twenty years, will be under most folk’s radar.
Which is a shame, because it’s a remarkably pleasant album. Gone are most of the clubby, dance house elements that defined Temperamental and its predecessor, 1996’s landmark Walking Wounded. The electronics, drum programming, and synths are still there, but they exist in a softer, more pastoral form. Which is quite apt given Out of the Woods’ lyrical and thematic sentiment.
If I had to sum Out of the Woods up in a single word, it would probably be “satisfied.” There are still some tales of heartache here and there, such as “A-Z” or “Easy,” for which Thorn’s empathetic, comforting voice is well suited. However, the defining sentiment of the album is best summed up in the opening track.
On previous Everything But The Girl albums, a song titled “Here It Comes Again” would probably have something of an ominous feel about it, an ode to impending heartache after another rain-soaked night out in the clubs. Here, however, it’s an ode to contentment, albeit a contentment that is hard earned.
“Here It Comes Again” may include reflections on life’s bittersweetness — “Your eyes are open/Your hands are bruised/Your wings are broken/So what is there to lose” — but the closing thoughts are pure gold, literally: “And the sun coming through the rain/Is more precious than gold/And here it comes again.”
While much of the album finds Thorn reflecting on her life (“Hands Up The Ceiling”), her long relationships (“Get Around To It”), and her children (“Nowhere Near”), the album also serves as a musical reflection as well.
Tracks such as “It’s All True” and “Raise The Roof” sound like they’ve been sitting around in Thorn’s songbook for the past 15 years or so, only to have been just picked up and dusted off for the album — and yet the modern production can’t hide songs’ retro roots, which have both a goofy and an alluring quality to them. Meanwhile, “Grand Canyon” is the closest thing to a “classic” Everything But The Girl track on the album.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Everything But The Girl’s dance-oriented music, for their forays into drum n’ bass and trip-hop. Nowadays, it does sound horribly dated from time to time, a definite product of the late 1990s. And yet there was a time in my life where I pretty much listened to Walking Wounded almost non-stop, its beat-laced lovelorn-ness an absolutely perfect soundtrack for the many late night drives I took.
And so “Grand Canyon,” with its mixture of Thorn’s winsome voice contrasting with undulating synth melodies and pulsating rhythms is a welcome addition to the album. At the same time, the comforting and compassionate lyrics — “Boy, I think you’ve come home/Open up the door and step inside/So many people who feel the way you do/Whose sweetest dreams have always been denied” — again fall in line with the warmth exuded throughout Out of the Woods.
Throughout Out of the Woods, I’m reminded of acts such as The Blue Nile, Saint Etienne, and Beth Orton. As with those artists, what is most gratifying about Out of the Woods is the appreciation it exudes for the simple graces of life — despite heartache and bittersweetness. It’s an appreciation that leads a certain confidence and calmness in the music, a sense of celebration that I find rather soothing these days.