`Set against the hyperactive drum tracks, Tracey Thorn's vocal is the still, small voice of calm at the centre of a barely repressed emotional tornado'

Everything But The Girl Walking Wounded Virgin CDV 2803

I'm not quite sure how they've managed it, but in the space of one album (and one label-change) Everything But The Girl have re-invented themselves in the most unassumingly vibrant manner. Having dawdled for years with slightly jazzy, slightly folksy, slightly poppy albums, their faintly emotional watercolours have acquired a more piquant setting in the syncopated skitterings of drum and bass.

The early signs of this unexpected growth have been audible over the past couple of years, in the startling success of the Todd Terry re-mix of "Missing", which charted high on both sides of the Atlantic, and in their contributions to Massive Attack's Protection; but neither precedent prepares one for the carefully wrought, homogeneous sound of Walking Wounded.

The actual songs are much the same as before - introspective ruminations upon failed or troubled relationships, calm, patient articulations of the space between even the closest of couples. But compared with the languid bossa nova backings of earlier recordings, the dry, strangely impersonal feel of the jungle and deep-house settings provides a more telling contrast with the intensely personal, quietly driven content of Tracey Thorn's lyrics. It's a combination that works to both styles' advantage, the rhythms helping to animate their songs more effectively, and the songs giving the drum'n'bass grooves a tighter focus. With its suspended string pad and slick snare and hi-hat shuffle, Walking Wounded might seem like a first cousin to Goldie's Inner City Life, but thanks to the lyrical core, it doesn't just sound as if the track exists mainly to demonstrate someone's drum-programming expertise.

Set against the hyperactive drum tracks, Thorn's vocal is the still, small voice of calm at the centre of a barely repressed emotional tornado. Most carefully attuned to the feelings of regret and trepidation in a song like "Single" - "If no one calls and I don't speak all day, do I exist?" - it also copes surprisingly well with the dry, sardonic tone of "Big Deal", wherein a partner's New Man search for his inner child gets the short shrift it deserves: "What you gonna say when you find him? ... Suppose once you wake him up he won't go back to bed and wants to stay up late watching TV?"

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