Ben Watt's rain-soaked number of pop-folk melodrama, "North Marine Drive", didn't exactly make him a household name when he released it a long time back. But it leaves behind the lingering air of cold nostalgia decades later.
Ben Watt, better known as one-half of alterna-pop British duo Everything But the Girl and now a successful DJ and remixer in his own right, humbly began his career with his debut indie effort, North Marine Drive back in 1983. While the album reached number one on the UK indie charts, the success of Drive was ultimately overshadowed when Watt teamed up with Tracey Thorn to create the band that became synonymous with a burgeoning sophisti-pop trend, taken to mountainous heights by other acts like the Style Council. Everything But the Girl displayed a keen sense of irony and literary wit that gave their brand of new wave bossa nova a sharper, biting edge. Later on, they would transform their twee sound into a grander, nearly cinematic form of electronic pop that not only brought them wider attention but much more lucrative rewards as well. Watt’s indie solo album was all but forgotten at this point, at times appearing in-print and then later disappearing from the market in accordance to the ebb and flow of EBTG’s success.
What made North Marine Drive so special was how resolutely honest and personal it was. Few albums by male singer-songwriters could invoke the genuine angst, ennui and despondency of disenchanted youth and Drive took the aura of early '80s romantic despair to the hilt. Impressionable images of grey skies, desolate cliffs, vast ocean views and the cold shoulder of Thatcherism emerge from the haunted atmosphere of a lonely British seaside port. The back cover of the album artwork features Watt perched on a tiny stone pier by a windswept sea, staring off into the distance pensively, a posture of resignation and defeat framed by the engulfing waves behind him. At a time when album packaging sincerely meant something, this photo was perfectly astute in its presentation and therefore emblematic of the atmosphere and era that the music evoked.
The title-track was the album’s standout; a simple construction of one guitar line that circles and turns in on itself while Watt muses wistfully about the nearly deserted strip of geography he is confined to. Melodiously rich and uncomplicated in its elegance, the song is weighted by a sense of urgency deeply felt in the forlorn poetics of Watt’s confessional lyric.