Leave Me with the Girls
Long before Everything But the Girl, in the distant days of 1980, Tracey Thorn was a 17-year-old high-school student in small-town Hertfordshire. Thorn had played bass in a couple of local bands with boys, gone along with other people's projects due to her intense shyness. But, coming of age, Thorn started to feel the desire to form a band of her own, and the idea found a catalyst when she picked up Colossal Youth, the one-and-only LP for legendary post-punk minimalists Young Marble Giants.
Inspired by the Welsh trio's stripped-down approach to composition, Thorn and her friend Gina Hartman formed their own band: Marine Girls. Recruiting sisters Jane and Alice Fox, they founded a band without drums, and with two girls essentially playing no instruments. Theirs was a recipe of sheer simplicity: rudimentary guitar strums, melodic bassplaying, occasional clacks of woodblock percussion, and sweet, sweet singing. Inspired by punk's DIY revolution, they self-released their first-ever cassette, and were 'discovered' by Television Personalities' Dan Treacy, who released Marine Girls' debut LP, Beach Party, in 1981.
The Saddest Summer Ever
By 1983, Marine Girls had become a part-time thing: Hartman had left the band; Thorn had moved to Hull to go to college, where she made her debut solo album, 1982's A Distant Shore. But the band was, in many ways, more vital than ever; their music sounding bolder, better. They still wielded their barely-there girlishness as a kind of punk provocation, but they no longer had punk-rock chops; their music may've been rudimentary, but it was no longer diffident.
Instead, Marine Girls were confident. Confident enough to ask one of their teenaged heroes, Young Marble Giants mastermind Stuart Moxham, to produce their second album. Moxham's production gave their songs a slight patina of professionalism, but, moreso, he marshaled Marine Girls' minimalist ways in a striking fashion; daring to tease out the soulfulness in Thorn's voice, the sadness in their songs, the timelessness in their approach.
Where Beach Party produced one bonafide breakup anthem, "In Love," Lazy Ways featured a whole slate of songs steeped in sadness and yearning. Again, Thorn and Jane Fox use sunny seaside imagery —and breezy, summery melodies— as counterpoint to the innate sadness in their songs (a trick that came to define indie-pop and twee, and was recycled en masse by neo-surf acts like The Drums, Beach Fossils, etc. circa 2010). Thorn's tunes, here, hint at what she'd go onto in Everything But the Girl: drawing delicate influence from bossa nova, jazz, and yé-yé pop as much as strident post-punk minimalism, and finding both beauty in sadness and melancholy in happiness.
The Rosy Thorn
"A Different Light," is a perfect piece of post-adolescent yearning; Thorn the tough, independent girl who gets swept off her feet by a fellow, and feels a sense of imbalance. "I may have been alone, but I thought I was safe and warm," Thorn begins, before lamenting that her object of devotion "made a mockery of thinking I was happy on my own," leading to those "nights I lay awake just wishing that I'd never met you."
There's a host more songs on Lazy Ways just as wondrously melancholy. Like "Second Sight," a bruised lovesong set to woodblock clacks and a slinky guitar, where Thorn's voice verily weeps lines like "makes me cry some nights when things he says I know are right." Or "Love to Know," a grown-up/grown-hollow successor to "In Love," where she sings "it's easier to live apart/than to live with a change of heart" with the hard-won wisdom of time.
These are no less than timeless lovesongs; their stripped-down, punk-spirited delivery only heightening that timelessness. Lazy Ways never sounds like some post-punk artifact, notable only for its eventual influence on the twee movement, but an album of sweet, sad pop whose universal subject-matter and musical essentialism will never fall out of fashion or favor.
Record Label: Cherry Red
Release Date: April, 1983