Temperamental by Everything But the Girl (Review)

I can’t shake this feeling that Watt and Thorn were just trying too hard to make this album full of club singles, of trying to raise their DJ cred.
Temperamental - Everything But the Girl

Everything But The Girl’s Walking Wounded was just one of those albums. One of those albums that you never really seem to get tired of hearing, that every time you heard a certain bassline or breakbeat, just made you feel that way. I’m sure part of it probably lies in its breathless merger of jungle and pop, as the duo filtered their jazzy folk-pop sensibilities through breakbeats right out of the deep jungle, ambient wails, and an urban groove that sounded as good in the clubs as it did driving around at 2:30am in the drizzle. Not to mention that mature ruminations on romance gone sour.

So tell me, Ben and Tracy, what happened during the making of Temperamental?!? Man, I haven’t wanted to like an album so much in a long time. It should be noted that the operative word in that sentence is “wanted,” because Temperamental sounds stale and artificial compared to Walking Wounded. That album had it all. But you wade through 56+ minutes of this stuff and realize that it doesn’t even sound like the same band. Scratch that… it sounds like a mediocre band trying to rip off the sound from Walking Wounded. Trying, but barely even coming close.

“Compression” stretches over 7 minutes, so you’d think that Ben Watt would be able to do something interesting. But no, we get the same old drum track repeated ad nauseam as little scratches, electronic noodlings, and the odd vocal are flung into the mix like spaghetti against a wall… and nothing sticks. One of my friends was listening to this in the store and commented that he could create the exact same beats on his Casio keyboard, and I’d have to agree.

There are those rare, beautiful tracks when the magic does surface. If the album was full of tracks like “Low Tide of the Night” and “Hatfield 1980,” I wouldn’t mind one bit. They take a decidedly hip hop flavor, with subtle jazz touches and solid bass that adds depth and flavor to Tracy Thorne’s smoldering vocals. You might hear them in a club somewhere… but there’s more maturity and emotion than is normally associated with “club” music. But tracks like these are the minority.

Unfortunately, there are more than a few tracks that sound a little too much like Cher’s quasi-club single “Believe,” complete with warbling vocal tricks and manufactured rhythms right off the assembly line. They’re pleasant enough, I don’t mind listening to them while working, and I’m sure they’ll get the kids dancing… but they could’ve been so much more.

Walking Wounded, despite its club influences, still packed an emotional punch. Thorn resisted moving into the “diva” sound, simply because her vocals retained a certain warmth, and the words actually meant something. There was still a dark and melancholy feel to some of the tracks, even the upbeat ones, that reminded you that these were actually songs, with something to say… rather than just remix fodder. Temperamental does the same, especially on tracks like the aforementioned “Low Tide of the Night” but I can’t shake this feeling that Watt and Thorn were just trying too hard to make this album full of club singles, of trying to raise their DJ cred.

Music video for “Temperamental”
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