Marine Girls Beach Party

These long-overdue North American editions of the musical baby steps made by Everything but the Girl prove that the duo have always been special talents, years before "Missing" helped them become found by the masses. Tracey Thorn's uniquely dolorous voice may now be couched in the comparatively upbeat lullabies of club land, but she sounds no more consolable than 20 years ago when she first stepped before a microphone as part of the Marine Girls. The female trio, which Thorn recently explained, "didn't know a drummer, so we had no drums," was inspired by contemporary minimalists Young Marble Giants, and throughout two albums - Beach Party (1981) and Lazy Ways (1983) - the trio strummed and little more than whispered; the embodiment of charm and desire before technical skill. Their more whimsical songs are eclipsed by downcast gems of post-adolescent romantic longing (especially Thorn's "Second Sight" and "Love To Know"). Already wielding an obvious gift, Thorn sat down in a garden shed one summer day in 1982 and recorded the eight-track A Distant Shore, a bittersweet, intensely intimate album whose songs (including a cover of "Femme Fatale") read like the contents of an unwisely kept fistful of love letters. She hadn't yet been introduced to Ben Watt, who also recorded for London's Cherry Red label, but the two were following similar strands of spare, post-punk pathos. The Summer Into Winter EP (recorded with a then-neglected Robert Wyatt) and North Marine Drive largely forego Thorn's doe-eyed reflection for full-fledged despondency, although the gorgeous "Some Things Don't Matter" and "On Box Hill" provide light relief. Months after being match made by their record company, the two Hull University students formed Everything But The Girl, and in the late '90s became dance music's melancholic heart. (Spinart)