Credit: Edward Bishop
by Charles Lyons-Burt Featured Ledger Line Music

Everything But the Girl — Fuse

April 28, 2023

Taken in its context as the opener and lead single of Everything But the Girl’s 11th studio album, Fuse, “Nothing Left to Lose” almost seems like a fake-out. Reportedly the last song recorded for this project, the subtly irresistible cut starts with a resounding bass thump and builds to a pretty propulsive garage not unlike what Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt were doing on their last two albums, before they stopped making music for nearly a quarter century. Compare this to the rest of Fuse, which seems to loop back to the more downtempo art pop of the duo’s early years, but with the sense of world weariness markedly magnified — and, mind you, this was already a group who trafficked in wistfulness, who as young people sang in a very old-soul way.

To an extent, that impression still lingers here —  even though Thorn and Watt are both now 60. “Maybe we were born at the wrong time,” Thorn wonders on “Time and Time Again.” Later in the record, there’s a three-song suite — “Lost” through “Interior Space” — that deals with the loss of a parent; a longing for something lasting to which to attach oneself; and the imprisoning capacity of the mind, in that order. During an initial listen, these digressions into gloominess seem to turn what has the potential to otherwise be a dance album — for grown ups, a lament for aging ravers — into something too dour. But more time spent with Fuse reveals a well-rounded satisfaction of the divergent interests that Thorn lays out in the final track, “Karaoke”: making music to simultaneously “heal the brokenhearted” and “get the party started.”

Indeed, Fuse’s dancier qualities eventually emerge, just as the kick drum is carefully, pleasingly brought into the mix at almost the halfway point of “Caution to the Wind.” A little fluttering, processed vocal fragment acts as a stray stimulant as well. There are polished pops, clicks, and squeaks across “Time and Time Again” that make one’s feet start tapping, and even though “Forever” is the middle song in the aforementioned thematic bummer stretch, the music backing its clearly down-and-out narrator moves at a good clip. This particular pairing of upbeat tempo and downbeat subject serves to suggest a certain hope for the future, a search that’s not been deterred and will go on.

EBtG’s expert integration of form and content is on rich display throughout Fuse, a testament to the duo’s concise and deft songwriting abilities. (The production and composition of every song but one is credited to the two bandmates.) Sometimes this linking of theme and sound can verge on the obvious, as when Thorn croons “and don’t just discard your old self,” followed by a whooshing, soft yet emphatic brush of percussion, on “When You Mess Up.” But, more generally, the approach is so restrained and minimalist that they get away with it. The same song’s minor key piano figure needles in self-interrogation and, after repeatedly acknowledging humans’ propensity to screw up, the song fittingly ends, melodically unresolved.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 17.