Tracey Thorn has one of the most beautiful voices in pop.

She sings with Everything But The Girl less frequently these days, and with an even more evocative sound than before. But the sudden appearance of 2023’s album Fuse was worth the wait.

The band left their jazzy, acoustic beginnings to experiment a little more with electronics in the 1990s, and that continues on Fuse. A number of the tracks deal with doubts and insecurities, and one in particular brings this idea to the fore: “When You Mess Up.”

Thorn’s voice and a piano introduce the track, the voice determined and definite:

You seem so young again
I think that’s because you’re in pain
Don’t be so hard on yourself

She’s preaching in the best way possible. Though lots of music paints a perfect picture, this song is accepting that things go wrong, that you can’t be perfect all the time, that the world isn’t actually Photoshopped to perfection. To put it bluntly…

Christ, we all mess up

The 3-note piano riff plays relentlessly throughout the song, changing to form the melody of the song as it goes. But it feels mostly unnerving, full of tension. It’s not a cheerful song, but it is a very important and relevant one, especially for those of us who have had doubts or feelings of guilt.

In order to keep the piano from being overwhelmingly anxiety-inducing, there’s a variety of burbles, electronics, and sounds that rise and fall in various places. Swells of atmospheric pads, clicking bells, and brief shimmering clouds of sound interrupt the melody throughout the song. They’re perfectly placed every time.

Thorn’s voice is older and has more gravitas than in previous years, making her words even more convicting.

The weight of experience is behind it.

The song becomes a kind of mantra for those who think they’ve made a mistake or tripped up somehow. Frank advice is offered in multiple places:

Don’t stoop to laugh at yourself

Or, my personal favorite:

For God’s sake have a cigarette

But the lyrics are also dotted with poetic, confounding moments:

To sing is to pray twice

The song is simultaneously calming and unnerving: calming because of the lyrics, and unnerving because of the restless sounds and melody underneath. But it’s ultimately a hopeful, positive song.

It’s telling us that whatever we think we’ve done, however bad it seems, we can forgive and move on. We will mess up. It’s an inevitable part of being human, but things might not be as bad as we thought. It’s an important message – and a beguiling contemporary sound – for our times.