Tracey Thorn released 13 varied records, starting with Beach Party by Marine Girls in 1982 and ending with Everything But The Girl’s Temperamental in 1999. When Thorn bumped into Neil Tennant at a party in 2005, EBTG were on an indefinite hiatus. He asked, “what are you doing with that lovely voice” — an opinion many of us shared. She’s in possession of a voice that’s both rich and comforting (like Tennant himself). It’s essential to have her around.
By the time Thorn put out the exquisite (and highly underappreciated), Out of the Woods, eight years had gone by. A similar amount of time has passed (not including her Christmas themed covers album) since Thorn’s last album, Love & Its Opposites. She returns with the modestly titled Record, which finds her teaming up with Ewan Pearson again. He’s provided faultless production that suits Thorn’s forlorn style.
Thorn announces her return on ‘Queen’ singing, “here I go again, down that road again”. Her gorgeous deep voice is sympathetic as she ponders what might have been, if she hadn’t met her long-time partner, Ben Watt. She mournfully asks, “do I ever find love, or am I still waiting?”. She taps into the same melancholic disco of ‘It’s All True’ and ‘Grand Canyon’ from Out Of The Woods. ‘Queen’ unfolds as a pulsing bass-line and inviting synths bubble underneath her reflective lyrics.
She previously worked with Green Gartside, Massive Attack and Jens Lekman, and she continues that excellent track record of collaborations. The wonderful Shura guests on ‘Air’ and she echoes Thorn’s insights, “I like the boys, the boys, the boys, all of the boys, but they liked the girly girly girly girls”. The similar themes of insecurity featured on Shura’s incredible debut, Nothing’s Real. Their voices are a match made in synth-pop heaven, blending with the squelchy 80s bass and dazzling keyboards.
‘Sister’ is Record’s most confessional and striking declaration. Over a psychedelic electro workout, Thorn sings a call to arms about her understandable frustrations with the challenges of being a woman (depressingly, given that these issues are still prominent). There’s anger and passion as she sings, “oh little man, you’re such a baby, put up your fists”. She wearily offers the painful truth, “oh what year is it, still arguing the same s**t” as she’s joined on backing vocals by the increasingly great, Corrine Bailey Rae. Warpaint offer a steady groove as the backing band. Feminism has been a prominent theme in Thorn’s music and writing over the years. ‘Sister’ becomes a defiant and explicit statement, as Thorn and Rae find solidarity repeating how they, “fight like a girl”, It’s an exquisite piece of writing.
Over the course of Record you can hear the same elegance and humanity found in the work of the artists Thorn has influenced (Jessie Ware, The XX, Rhye). ‘Smoke’ is a plaintive ballad that shows her gift for storytelling. The introspective ‘Go’ is soothing as she captures the stillness and atmosphere found in peak Blue Nile. ‘Babies’ has a short burst of vibrant pop where Thorn deals with the adjustment to motherhood. She sings, “cos I didn’t want my babies until I wanted babies” as if it’s a nursery rhyme. Her delivery and the 80s new-wave rhythm keeps things on the right side of twee.
‘Dancefloor’ is a moody, but danceable, ode to the romance of clubbing, similar to Pet Shop Boys’ ‘The Pop Kids’. She casually exhibits her flawless taste in music, “play me Good Times, Shame, Golden Years and Let The Music Play”. She chronicles her yearning for the freedom of nightlife with a hint of sadness and nostalgia, but ultimately it’s a celebratory end to Record.
Thorn has described Record as documenting her, “no f***s given stage in life”. That headstrong attitude is eloquently portrayed over this concise album. She remains relatable in the way she grows and communicates with her audience. In the past Thorn transitioned herself from a dreamer/troubador to a convincing queen of late-night understated electronica. Record finds her positioned between those roles and It rivals her best work, (A Distant Shore, Eden, Walking Wounded, Out Of The Woods). Record is a late-career triumph from a class act.
Record is out now on Merge.