Monday, 14 May 2007


So. Introductions.

Nah. Let's talk about
Everything But The Girl instead, for no other reason than they're playing on my ipod as I write this, and that listening to them is a weirdly evocative experience for me; press a button and there I am, back in 1996, fifteen years old, spotty, greasy and walking to school in the rain with Walking Wounded on my personal stereo, thinking how poignant and melancholy and wonderful it was.

And the thing is, unlike most of the Britrock music I liked back then and thought was good (Geneva, anyone? Mansun? Spaced?), EBTG really were. They really were poignant and melancholy and wonderful. They were trip-hop but with better tunes, pop but with better lyrics, electronic but with impeccable taste. Everything they did exuded emotion and grace.

Better still, half of them was
Tracey Thorn, a woman with a voice all at once smoky, sweet and soothing, capable of lifting the most mediocre song or lyric to something pure and beautiful and yearning: in her hands, Rod Stewart's hoary old I Don't Want to Talk About it becomes the dreamy, heartbroken plea that it should be; the one softly sung word "mirrorball" becomes a metaphor for nostalgia and regret.

The oddest thing to me at fifteen (and which is still rather odd to me now to, although I should know better) is that despite the utter sexiness of her voice, she is in fact one of the least sexy women in pop. The sound that I found, and find, so sultry and alluring, comes from a woman who, if I passed in the street, I wouldn't give a second glance. That isn't so unusual in itself - I know that looks have nothing to do with talent - but it tells me something interesting about myself, in a kind of roundabout way; I love EBTG for their music and lyrics and the way they seem to really mean something, and I suspect that it's precisely because I don't find Tracey Thorn at all attractive. Whereas with most other female artists I usually think about how much I'd like to get them into bed when I listen to them, and probably don't take them very seriously as a consequence, with her I think about what really matters - the music. It's the same with all the other female musicians who I've ever genuinely liked - Beth Orton, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell - and I suspect that if they were better looking I never would really have gotten to like their music very much in the first place. I just would have put them in the box of 'women who are quite fit', and missed out on some of my favourite songs.

Which makes me think. Almost all of the female musical artists who have really been critical successes - asides from the ones I've mentioned, Chrissy Hynde and Billie Holliday spring to mind - have been so in spite of the way they look. I'm sure the success is due only to talent as much as it is to the fact that men will take a woman more seriously if they don't want to sleep with her

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