April 18, 2003

Everything But the Girl "Like The Deserts Miss the Rain"

I've always had a soft spot for Everything But the Girl. They've been making interesting and always pretty music since the early 1980s, and have been much-loved for it. They had a super-massive hit in 1996 with "Missing," and it seems like that's all they're known for in America. Too bad, because their music is some of the most enjoyable pop music EVER. I'd like to think that the "masses" had taken them seriously, but perhaps that blame should be placed on their record label, too--pumping for singles, ignoring the talent.

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain isn't a greatest hits record. It's not really an odds-and-sods record, either. It's Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's hand-picked favorites from their career, and as such, it's a really, really nice collection--and it really makes a case for Everything But The Girl's place in pop history. While there have been a few greatest hits collections, those records have seemed a bit too perfunctory, sticking to the singles, which weren't always the best representation of what they are good at.

Though Tracey Thorn's singing and Ben Watt's genius musical backing are certainly strong points, but Everything But The Girl's greatest strength would have to be variety. Simply take a look at their pop career. Both of them had solo projects in the early 1980s--Watt's album was a folky affair, and Thorn was in the lo-fi girl group Marine Girls, and also recorded her own solo, folk-pop album. As Everything But the Girl, they've made records that have been: Indie-Pop, Jazz, Adult Contemporary, Britpop, and Electronica. They've sounded like the Smiths and Bacharach; they've made music that's perfect for the club on Saturday night and for the hangover on Sunday morning.

Though Like The Deserts Miss the Rain is an overview of their entire career, the majority of the songs are from their dance-club rebirth. Don't worry, though; the band have mixed up the selection so that nothing sounds dated--and none of the songs sound out of place! That's what's amazing about Everything But the Girl; the acoustic ballads and steamy dancefloor numbers fit together so seamlessly, and it's a wonderful combination of sound that few could begin to touch. "Missing" appears here--the "hit" version, with the Todd Terry beat (the original was acoustic and quite downbeat)--and it flows quite nicely into a cover of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" from 1988. Other highlights include the remix of "Wrong," (entitled "Tracey In My Room"), "Mirrorball," Tracey's appearance on Massive Attack's hit single "Protection," and the cover of Captain Beefheart's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains." For the collector, there's an inital pressing with a four-track disk, with some songs I'm sure have already been released. All four of these are pleasant, and my favorite is "Gun Cupboard Love."

Perhaps the only real drawback of Like The Deserts Miss The Rain is purely an aesthetic one; these songs come from various sources, yet there's no information provided as to where they came from. It's a hand-picked collection, but I'd be curious to know why they picked these songs. I could make an argument about songs that are, erm, missing from the set, but as this isn't a greatest hits collection, maybe I shouldn't fuss too much. (I'd have included "Come On Home," "Apron Strings," "Love Not Money," and perhaps their debut single, "Night And Day," but that's just me)

Like The Deserts Miss The Rain is certainly proof that Everything But the Girl are one of the best bands of the late twentieth century. That might sound a bit much, but taken as a whole, this is a great record that would appeal to fans of music of nearly every genre--and it certainly should pique the interest of those who aren't familiar with Everything But the Girl. An essential collection of beautiful pop music that really does belong in your collection.

--Joseph Kyle

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