Dance-Cry-Dance Music

Tracey Thorn's voice is at its seductive, mournful best here.

Todd Terry's pumping 1995 remix of Everything But The Girl's wistful tune

"Missing" was a fluke hit for the band, but it was also a great big shove in

the right direction: singer Tracey Thorn sounded good in the context of the

mellow pop songs she and multi-instrumentalist Ben Watt had been playing for

13 years, but she sounded amazing as a simmering disco diva.

Temperamental scales down the drum & bass beats that skittered across

Walking Wounded (1996) in favor of the deep house of American dance

clubs and gyms. Heard as dance music, it's a subtler version of the better

Razor-N-Guido or Hex Hector productions, with ratcheting fragments of

Thorn's voice tossed across her lead vocals. The beat/ bass strategies refer

obliquely to techstep (dance subgenre popularized by Ed Rush, DJ Trace and Nico) ("Compression") and Soul II Soul ("Downhill

Racer"), but they mostly update the last decade's worth of house just enough

to sound very 1999, with lavish billows of keyboard blossoming everywhere.

The disc booms, it repeats itself, it defies the narrative of the

pre-written song: you can dance to it, and nothing will distract you.

The brilliance of Temperamental is that it works as a bittersweet

singer/ songwriter album, too — you just have to treat the lyrics as

the focus of attention rather than as the window dressing they usually are

in house music. The catch phrases that Thorn repeats throughout "The Future

Of The Future" (RealAudio excerpt), EBTG's collaboration with Deep Dish — "it's so bright/

tonight," "whatcha gonna do about me now" — gradually cohere into a

lyric about willingness to live beyond the present, and shift perspective

from abstract philosophy to a lover's plea. The verse of "Hatfield 1980" (RealAudio excerpt) has

a two-note melody so as not to get in the way of its old-school beat and

G-funk synth whistle, but the lyrics are much more chilling than Thorn's

low-key delivery suggests: "I'm seeing my first knife/ My first ambulance

ride."

The album's most powerful track, though, is "Blame" (RealAudio excerpt), co-produced by J Majik

in the slick post-drum & bass style of his Metalheadz alliance.

Its dub-wise strings swim in and out of the mix where they would have been a

constant presence for the old EBTG; even when the percussion is reduced to a

single looped cymbal, it implies the rattling freight-train sound of the

clubs, and Thorn's vocal is properly emotive. But its hook isn't as simple

as its form suggests: "I'm the one to blame," Thorn sings, a little

differently every time, holding onto the L in "blame." In the song's break,

she explains what she means, dragging it across the beat: "Who let you down

and loved you? That was me again." The grooves of Temperamental are

the formulaic sounds of joy, but in EBTG's hands, they're also the balm for

heartbreak.