The language of lite

Everything But the Girl's Ben Watt laments the duo's adult alternative fate

"We've become a victim of the 'rockifying' of the alternative market," Watt laments. "For a long time, we were considered a cult jewel by the pre-grunge crowd, like Cocteau Twins or The Sundays. But the goal posts have been moved. Now these adult jazz stations [in America] have picked up on our sound, and we're being programmed in a very different direction."

Standing near the precipice of chart-topping American success (they reached that level years ago in the U.K.) must seem a strange place for Watt, who, he admits, "received my share of flak" during the '70s for his unabashed appreciation of Nick Drake and other Brit folkies. To Watt, his own careful songcraft and brooding observations are perfectly in keeping with the spirit of post-punk experimentalism that spawned Aztec Camera, Yazoo, and Scritti Politti in the early '80s. To the American music industry, he and Thorn are consummate, consistent spinners of a sound that sells big to one of the most sought-after demographic in the country--white, college-educated, upper-income folks in their 30s and 40s.

And yet, if Everything But the Girl stick to their songwriting guns, they have a chance to make the same professionalism seem cool to folks who like their pop music brave and urgent. I tell Watt I've been listening a lot to Nirvana's Unplugged album, and am struck by how the last testimony to Kurt Cobain's talent wasn't the garage-wallop of his band, but his own disciplined melodicism as a composer.

Watt, a Cobain fan, agrees. "Music is now being made by folks who were influenced by the post-punk bands. They're not afraid of appearing contradictory--they follow the punk ethos of confrontation, but they also want to play their instruments well. Kurt, to me, was an example of a very postmodern songwriter--frightening and moving at the same time. That's what I aspire to be."

Everything But the Girl performs Nov. 27 at Caravan of Dreams, 312 Houston, in Fort Worth.

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