A TWO-PART GUEST POSTING by ECHORICH
I’ve been quite loud and proud about my love for all things Everything But The Girl over the years. So many things make their work stand out for me, not the least of which is the very individual sound of Tracey Thorn’s vocals. Like a very fine wine they have become more complex with age, but at the same time they are quite ageless. They mark for me the sound of an age which is now almost 40 years strong.
Tracey is a singular lyricist, a brilliant writer – you can’t go wrong with any of her books, and keen social commentator with her regular contributions to the New Statesman.
After Everything But The Girl ‘closed shop’ with the release of their final album, Temperamental, in 1999, she took time to be a mum, raise a family, catch up on life away from the world of recording and touring. But by 2006 her focus was back on music. Her first solo album in almost 25 years, Out Of The Woods, would be filled with collaborations with writers, producers, mixers, but no credited input from husband Ben Watt. It is a diverse and engaging album, with tracks ranging from electronic ballads to dance floor fillers, ambient chillers and pop.
The follow up album, Love And It’s Opposite, found her working with electronica producer Ewan Pearson and creating an album focused on getting older, relationships and navigating life. In comparison, to the previous release, the synths are toned down and a more minimalist approach shines through. This manages to give even more power and nuance to the beauty of Tracey’s vocals. There are hints of earlier EBTG songs and approaches, but there isn’a a song that feels like it’s treading past waters.
Never to be pigeonholed as predictable, Tracey chose to release a Christmas/Holiday/Winter themed album for her fourth solo effort. It is is an album filled with nontraditional choices, covers of songs by White Stripes, Sufjan Stevens, The Magnetic Fields, Green Gartside, Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell among them. You get an instant reminder of just how strong and familiar Tracey’s work has been over the years, as these songs seem to fit right in to her wheelhouse with no need to grease the gears. Importantly, Tinsel and Lights sees the return of husband Ben Watt on guitar and piano throughout the album. But most importantly there are two new tracks from Tracey to round out the collection. For me, one has become among my favorites of all her songs.
For the next 5 years, Tracey concentrated on writing two acclaimed books – Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star and Naked At The Albert Hall, raising her teen son and twins girls along with Ben, and representing my generation in her commentary column in the New Statesman. During this break she did find time to score the soundtrack to independent film director Carol Morely’s 2015 release, The Falling.
2017 found Tracey in the studio, again with producer Ewan Pearson in tow, to make an album that is as wonderfully feminist as it is personal, Record. Record sees the synthesizers and keyboards make a comeback in a big way. Most songs are all synth with the exception of an occasional bass, guitar, drum or string instrument finding their way in the mix. Tracey manages to take the idea of Girl Power and turn it into Woman Power, focusing on the battles, losses and triumphs of being a woman in the 21st Century.
This ICA is a compilation in two halves. I knew I was going to stretch the concept, once again, beyond 10 tracks and offer a Baker’s Dozen. But in trying to narrow down those 13 tracks I began doubting I could really be satisfied with my choices. In the end, I am presenting an ICA focused solely on songs written by Tracey from solo albums 2 – 5 and a second, accompanying ICA of Tracey’s recording of other songwriters work. I hope you will allow my indulgence, but I came to the realization there wasn’t going to be any other way for me to proceed.
TRACEY THORN – An ICA for a New Millennium
1. It’s All True – Escort Extended Remix (12” Single) – Released a month prior to Out Of The Woods, the song was given to a few remixers to have a go with. Escort, a “Nu Disco” band from Brooklyn bring their indie disco ethics to the albums lead single. Its mid-tempo and the electro grooves give it a feeling of early 80s NYC to these ears.
2. Long White Dress (Love And Its Opposite) – Tracey’s vocals are strikingly intimate, as if we are hearing her thoughts more than vocals. The music is spare – a guitar reminiscent of EBTG’s Idlewild period, simple melody and drum brush work is all the song really needs.
3. Grand Canyon (Out Of The Woods) – It would be easy to just let the gentler, singer-songwriter side of Tracey take over this ICA, but that’s far from all that I love about her. Grand Canyon is a pulsing dance floor beast, where Tracey leads the proceedings, but also allows her vocals to become part of the mix. Everybody loves you here – is the song’s refrain…Indeed.
4. Dancefloor (Record) – An instant classic from Record, Dancefloor is deep, rubbery and unapologetic in its celebration of “me.” Good Time, Shame, Golden Years and Let The Music Play are where her mind, soul, and body are and she is reveling in the abandon.
5. Hands Up To The Ceiling (Out Of The Woods) – A contemplative song that looks back at the past – one filled with missed opportunities, vanished expectations and reality. There is a beautiful longing in Tracey’s voice as she tries to reach back to a time that was filled with promise.
6. Why Does The Wind? (Love And Its Opposite) – One of the album’s uptempo tracks, shows off just how complimentary Tracey’s vocals are when they meet up with a good beat. What I love about the song is that it feels like three songs in one, giving it much more credit than just a dance floor number.
7. Smoke (Record) – my choice for JC’s ‘Some Songs Are Great Short Stories.’ It’s the simplest of melodies, you might say it really doesn’t carry much melody at all. The lyrics tell of the life lived by a couple, but also the feeling of belonging or finding a way to belong.
8. Hormones (Love And Its Opposite) – a bit of Indie-Pop here and thoughts on confronting the next generation, especially when they are your own kids.
9. Easy (Out Of The Woods) – Echoing some of the sounds and beats that made EBTG’s penultimate album Walking Wounded so magnificent, Easy is about knowing how bad someone might be for you, still pursuing them and knowing it won’t last, all because it’s just that easy.
10. Queen (Record) – the album’s teaser track, but not released as a single. The 80s flow easily from the song. Had it been released in say ’83 or ’84, MTV would have been all over this song, but the subject matter is far from the shiny, the world is your oyster feel of those days gone by. Queen is a great example of how Tracey can slip right into a character and start exploring.
11. Raise The Roof (Out Of The Woods) – Certainly one of my favorite tracks that Tracey has ever sung, Raise The Roof is all about realizing the clock is ticking and it’s time to take a chance and find love. It’s a funky mid-tempo, almost bossa nova track that build and builds with Tracey’s vocals. I have to recommend the remixes of Raise The Roof, in particular Richard Norris and Erol Alkan’s Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation.
12. Sister (Record) – Sister is a Tracey Thorn Tour De Force! It is a no punches pulled ode to Womanhood. Over a rolling bass and percussion, counterpointed by a stabbing, repetitive guitar riff, Tracey, along with the assistance of Corrine Bailey Rae and Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, draws a line in the sand, daring anyone to cross it and threaten her/womanhood’s right to be strong and independent. It is the album’s stand out track as well as one of the top tracks of 2018. It swirls in and out of you and spins around you until the last fading notes. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on Andrew Weatherall’s Remix and Dub mix. You won’t be disappointed.
13. Joy (Tinsel And Lights) – Finally, one of the two new tracks that appeared on Tracey’s 4th solo effort. It is one of the most touching and tender songs of Tracey’s song canon. Reflecting life at the end of the year and leading up to Christmas and the New Year, it is a call to rejuvenation and strength in the face of the coming unknown. The final verse tugs at my heartstrings every time I hear it…take a listen.
Our learned scribe isn’t wrong about the remixes he refers to in its text.
Part 2 of this ICA will appear tomorrow.