Everyone talks about perfect summer songs, but hardly anyone discusses great winter ones — tunes that capture a certain cold, bleak, will-spring-ever-arrive? mood. Its title aside, Ben Watt’s “Summer Ghosts” is one of those songs, and beautifully so.
Triggered by something, seemingly a painting of his mother, the one-time half of English pop duo Everything But the Girl finds himself ruminating on his past — especially his parents with “their own shit, wrapped up in themselves, jazz on the shelves.” Whether it’s an actual trip or just one taking place in his mind, he’s soon returned to the neighborhood of his youth. There, he finds a bleak landscape — “clearance sales, Saturday hair and nails, loans and help with debt”— and a chain hotel that definitely wasn’t there before. Despite evidence that part of his past has been physically erased, Watt still realizes that the memories, the ghosts, remain, and part of him maybe hasn’t changed that much after all.
It’s hard to believe, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of Everything But the Girl closing up shop. Tracey Thorn has moved on to a second life as an author and columnist, as well as solo artist, while her longtime partner and husband Watt returned to his DJ roots, ran a club and eventually resumed the solo career he put on hold after he and Thorn formed the group in the Eighties.
Part of Watt’s upcoming album, Storm Damage, “Summer Ghosts” is an extension of the pensive pop Everything But the Girl once specialized in. (Even when their songs were remixed, as in the classic “Missing,” the mood was as thoughtful as it was jubilant.) With its sparse piano and synths and walking-through-the-slush tempo, it’s as musically haunted as Watt’s observations, which are talk-sung in the verses to add to the conversational tone. The only moment of beauty arrives in the choruses, which are lush and pretty and feel like a ray of sunshine that breaks through the clouds before disappearing once again. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again; Watt says you can, but best to be prepared for what you may find there.