4. Everything But The Girl, Amplified Heart (Atlantic, 1994)

Despite the title, this is Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's most organic and acoustic record next to, well, Acoustic, the covers collection that preceded it. On first listen, it comes perilously close to easy listening or elevator music--every note seems smooth, sophisticated, carefully chosen and executed, like aural wallpaper suitable for subdued cocktail parties and pleasant enough to play for your parents. Additional spins, however, reveal lots of raw tension subsisting beneath the glassy veneer. I recently heard someone call this one of the best ever albums about a failed relationship; it's an apt description, although I never thought of it that way, for it wasn't this duo's last album (they're currently no longer together). On the contrary, backing away from the tinny overproduction of EBTG’s past few releases, it felt like a rebirth. Watt had also just survived a rare intestinal disease that almost killed him. One of the two songs he sings, "25th December", seems unbearably poignant with this in mind, but it’s only a crescendo on an album suffused with eloquent longing, regret, melancholy and resolve. And although I initially thought the hit Todd Terry remix of “Missing” was a sellout, it really fleshes out the original (both are included here) and adds something crucial even as it trims it down into a minimalist electronic soundscape.