Just call me the Cher of the CD-buying public. I keep saying I've bought my last compact disc only to go back on my word once more. Reissues are my total weakness -- Bananarama, Pretenders, Tom Tom Club, Tracie Young, Romeo Void, Saint Etienne, etc. -- as is everything Everything But the Girl, so it stands to reason that I would cave in to Edsel/Rhino's two-disc treatments of the band's first four albums ("Eden," "Love Not Money," "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" and "Idlewild"). That I waited six months to buy them is the amazing thing -- hoping for a Christmas miracle, perhaps? -- but they're mine all mine now, so I figured it was worth a quick review. All four are beautifully produced "storybook" style CDs, with the two discs tucked in on each side of the hardbound cover, with recent recollections by Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn of each album's production:
"Eden" and "Love Not Money" were both recorded while they were still full-time university students! Ben wrote the lush string parts for "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" entirely on a synthesizer! "Idlewild" originally included "Dyed in the Grain" and "Hang Out the Flags" but the label felt the overall album was becoming too slow and downbeat, so they went back and wrote "Goodbye Sunday" and "Blue Moon Rose"! "Living on Honeycomb" is one of their favorite b-sides (me, too!).
The liner notes also contain lyrics on pages decorated with rare period-specific photographs, sheet music and fun ephemera. Getting all four CDs in one shipment from Amazon was like Christmas morning all over again! Of course, these reissues can never be all things to all fans, but these come awfully close. My only REAL gripe is that the band omitted three songs I can spot off the top of my head -- one rare alternate take (a live recording of Ben singing lead on "Don't You Go"), one rare b-side ("Always on My Mind") and the "She's Having a Baby" version of "Apron Strings" -- from collections that were specifically put together to include ALL of the albums' A-sides, B-sides, demos and outtakes. (The second and third songs were available on CD at various points, but Ben's "Don't You Go" only exists in a highly distorted file that's been floating around the Web for 15 years. It seems the opportunity to get it out there is forever lost now.) These are relatively minor things, but that Ben and Tracey make a point of saying they DELIBERATELY left "Always on My Mind" and "Apron Strings" off ("because we're not crazy about them in retrospect") smacks of Marilyn stupidly choosing to omit "Pray for That Sunshine" (an album track!) from his "Despite Straight Lines" reissue, and seems awfully shortsighted, if not a bit selfish, considering most of us have bought these same four albums -- actually FIVE, because "Eden" was also issued with five different tracks in the U.S. as "Everything But the Girl" -- anywhere from one to FOUR times. (Vinyl, cassette, original CD reissue and now this top-dollar import.) On the plus side: Instead of the "Apron Strings" that appeared on the soundtrack, they do include the demo (that first caught John Hughes' attention) and the original "film version," which was deemed "too overproduced" by the movie studio, so these are two great additions. To be sure,all four deluxe editions are WONDERFUL additions to my dusty CD collection, even if they do not come close to erasing the need for my "Kitchen Sink Treasures" rarities collections, which also included the duo's vast number of guest appearances and collaborations. Ben and Tracey: Please contact me if you need help producing a collection of those songs -- "The Paris Match," "Over the Rainbow," "Better Things," etc. --and let the licensing requests begin!
One killer B