Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt first began performing together when they were students at Hull University, taking their name from a poster in a local furniture shop (“for your bedroom needs we sell everything but the girl”).
Thorn had been a member of The Marine Girls and released the acoustic mini-album A Distant Shore, which was a strong seller in the UK independent charts during 1982, despite costing only £120 to record.
Watt released the critically acclaimed North Marine Drive the following year, by which time the duo had made their recording debut with a gentle and simply produced version of Cole Porter’s Night And Day.
They subsequently left Cherry Red Records and signed to the major-distributed WEA subsidiary Blanco y Negro label.
They almost immediately struck gold with the single Each and Every One (1984) making the UK Top 30 with its parent album Eden hitting the Top 20.
This jazz-flavoured pop collection hallmarked the duo’s understated compositional skills, displaying a great leap from the comparative naïveté of their previous offerings.
Subsequent albums revealed a much more gradual growth in songwriting though many of their older fans contend they have never surpassed that debut. Their biggest single breakthrough, meanwhile, came when a cover version of Danny Whitten’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It reached UK #3 in 1988.
The album Idlewild (1988) enjoyed critical and commercial success. Recorded with a small unit, featuring Ian Fraser and Peter King on saxes, there is a lounge bar, jazzy snazziness to the LP. It is certainly easy listening, but that cannot diminish the nostalgic beauty of Oxford Street or the boppy These Early Days.
The Language Of Life, a collection with more jazz stylings, found further critical acclaim, with one track – The Road – featuring Stan Getz on saxophone. A more pop-orientated follow-up, World-Wide, was released to mediocre reviews in 1991.
Watt’s increasingly busy DJ schedule and Thorn’s vocal contributions to trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack‘s 1994 opus, Protection, demonstrated their increasing interest in the UK’s dance music scene.
This was reflected in the textures of Amplified Heart, which featured contributions from Danny Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Richard Thompson and arranger Harry Robinson.
The album was recorded following Watt’s recovery from a life-threatening illness (chronicled in the quirky Patient: The History Of A Rare Illness). Todd Terry’s remix of the track Missing provided their big breakthrough, becoming a huge club hit and reaching the UK and US Top 5.
The duo’s new approach was confirmed on Walking Wounded, their Virgin Records debut, which embellished their acoustic songs with drum ‘n’ bass and trip-hop rhythms to stunning effect. The title track and Wrong both reached the UK Top 10.
Watt’s involvement in the club scene meant that the follow-up did not appear until 1999.
Temperamental retained some of the low-key charm of Walking Wounded, although three years on the duo’s work sounded less groundbreaking.