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"But who am I fooling when I say I have no regrets?
You can push things to the back of your mind,
But you can never forget."
All of thirty-one years after his first solo album, 1983’s North Marine Drive, and fifteen years after Everything But The Girl’s last album (to date), 1999’s Temperamental, Ben Watt has released his second full-length release, Hendra. But whereas his wife (the other half of Everything But The Girl) Tracey Thorn’s second solo album, Out Of The Woods (released thirty-two years after her debut, 1982’s A Distant Shore), explored the same musical territory as the duo’s late-career Electronica-infused albums (Walking Wounded; Temperamental), Ben Watt’s Hendra has more in common with the organic sound of his solo debut. That said, that’s where the comparison ends. North Marine Drive is largely acoustic, while Hendra also incorporates electric and a few electronic instruments and even contains a couple of more up-tempo compositions: the spirited, Blues-infused Nathaniel, and the West Coast Rock of Forget, the latter featuring Lindsey Buckingham-inspired electric guitar that brings to mind late ‘70s Fleetwood Mac.
The predominant mood on Hendra is pensive and reflective, with an emphasis on languid ballads that contemplate life, loss, regrets, resilience, hope and faith. Hendra starts off with the elegiac, buzzing sound of a vintage Arp synthesizer, acoustic guitar and upright bass, and then breaks into a short but blistering electric guitar solo (by ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler) that underscores the introspective, intense lyrics which deal with regret, frustration and self-doubt (“But I must allow these feelings / And just let them fall / But sometimes I turn the radio up so loud / Just to drown them all”).
Golden Ratio is an evocative, Jazz-tinged acoustic Folk song that should appeal to fans of John Martyn, David Crosby and Nick Drake, and The Gun is a vivid, acerbic rumination on gun control (“His family lives out in a gated community / It makes them believe in a magic immunity / 'Armed Response' signs under the orange tree / And beyond the razor wire you can see the glittering sea”). Young Man’s Game is reminiscent of classic early-mid-‘70s Rod Stewart, and The Heart Is A Mirror, an atmospheric ballad, features a charming analog Moog synthesizer motif. Hendra is a welcome return for Ben Watt after approximately ten years as a much-coveted D.J. and the boss of his own record label Buzzin’ Fly. If he and his wife Tracey Thorn won’t reunite as Everything But The Girl, hopefully he’ll write and record his own music on a more regular basis.