British duo Everything But the Girl has returned with their first studio album in 24 years, Fuse. Seemingly everywhere in the early to mid-90s with their omnipresent hit Missing (especially the global smash Todd Terry remix), Fuse was written and produced by original members Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn over the pandemic-laden spring-summer of 2021.
The album marks a modern take on the lustrous electronic soul that Everything But the Girl pioneered in the mid-90s with their trio of iconic LPs, Amplified Heart (1994), Walking Wounded (1996), and Temperamental (1999).
The album's ten tracks showcase a refined, mature sound that seamlessly blends electronic and acoustic instrumentation as Thorn's affecting and richly-textured voice takes center stage. Not to be outdone, Watt's glimmering landscape of sub-bass, sharp beats, half-lit synths, and empty space add a panache that results in a sound of a group still comfortable with being topically contemporary and musically ageless. The result is a "comeback" album that showcases icy pop sensibility against striking club prowess.
Fuse opens with its first single, the two-steppy Nothing Left To Lose, which announced the project. The track is immediately reminiscent of classic Everything But The Girl, setting the tone for things to come as Thorn's vocals convey a sense of melancholy reflection ("I need a thicker skin, the pain keeps setting in/I've been here before, tell me what to do/I've set fire to my pride/ kiss me while the world decays"). The instrumentation is minimal yet steady, with Watt's production allowing Thorn's now slightly deeper voice to shine.
As the album progresses, it's clear that Fuse is not just a nostalgia trip or cash grab. Instead, Thorn and Watt update their signature sound, incorporating new elements and styles for a modern blueprint for electro-pop. Of these, Caution To The Wind is a standout example that features a more upbeat disco shimmer than we're used to hearing from the duo, as is No One Knows We're Dancing, an ode to late-night dance respite ("I lost my mind last week, I lost my place, I lost my bags, I lost my biggest client, I lost my place, I lost my perfect job, then I just lost it …").
Throughout Fuse, Thorn's lyricism is at its best when capturing what it's like to start again... albeit this time in a world very different from the one we may have once known. Her lyrics are sometimes elusive ("maybe we were born at the wrong time"). Other times, they are richly detailed ("And no I don't bleed/And yes I am freed/But what is that worth?/Are we all about birth?"). But despite which ebb or flow the surprisingly topical lyrics sway, they are always emotive. The album's themes range from hope to despair to nostalgia across a coherent sonic narrative.
It's clear that the band took their time with this album, ensuring that every track is crafted with care and attention to detail. Fuse is a cohesive body of work that reminds us why Everything But the Girl was such a refreshing breath of air during the 80s and 90s through genre-blending and relevant and relatable themes. Thorn's voice is as affecting as ever, and Watt's production is the perfect complement. If only all long-time "comebacks" were as solid.