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Wednesday, October 27, 1999

What's with Watt?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Confident that they were still songwriters and not beat junkies, singer Tracey Thorn and multi-instrumentalist-arranger Ben Watt let dance floor artists Todd Terry and Spring Heel Jack take them into the middle-’90s. They aided and abetting the duo on Walking Wounded (1996) – a record that utilized rather than aped house music and gave the humble-looking pair a sleek, gorgeous sheen. The triumph, though, was all Watt’s – his song arrangements stood solid among the new, sophisticated sounds escaping from the clubs, successfully sidestepping comparisons to existing cutting-edge dance music by favoring songs, not tracks.

But three years after being labeled "sophisticated" rather than "shameless," EBTG has lost its good judgement. With Temperamental, Watt and Thorn give up too much in order to swing with the Jennifer Lopezes and Madonnas of the world.

EBTG’s lyrical focus is still strong, though. Thorn sings sweetly of the banality of modern life in "Low Tide of the Night" ("London in the low tide of the night/not a taxi cab in sight/anaesthetized I start the journey home"). Later, she brings its shocking realities home with the heartbeat trip-hop quiet of "Hatfield 1980" ("I’m seeing my first knife/my first ambulance ride/I hold your hand the whole way/crying").

But Tracey Thorn, the one-time Massive Attack chanteuse, has never been – and never should be – a house diva. The beats are too quick and thick now, forcing Thorn’s voice underneath and between the mix, marginalizing the power and delivery she had achieved on Walking Wounded. Now, instead of concentrating on Thorn’s stories about personal trials, breakups and end-of-the-earth living, the listener is forced to engage Watt’s beats – an unfortunate result. As if to prove the point, the best dance track here isn’t Watt’s, it’s Deep Dish’s "The Future of the Future," which saves the record from hip-house-irrelevance but leaves EBTG looking more like cynical opportunists than sophisticated troubadours.

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