Posted in Album of the Month

MAY – Tracey Thorn – Record

Sometimes an album of the month is a leap in the dark (some work, some don’t, like N.E.R.D., yikes) and sometimes you have one that you desperately want to do but the timing is wrong, and when it comes to your shot, someone’s bloody bought it. NOT THIS TIME. So I’m rather chuffed to be able to still present Tracey Thorn’s new solo album: Record.

There’s a lot to say here, and a lot of history for me, so I’ll try and be brief, but probably fail. While never being a properly committed EBTG fan (more fool me), Tracey Thorn’s solo work has found a way into my heart ever since her first recent album, Into The Woods, back in 2007 (technically her second, but A Distant Shore was released in 1982!). She’d obviously found me via work where her vocals (Massive Attack) or her songwriting (Missing) made it onto the dancefloor, but seeing a solo album was still a bit of surprise, especially away from her work with husband Ben Watt.

But it wasn’t just good: Out Of The Woods was outstanding. Pop hooks and electronic tinges that became less of a surprise when you realise that it was produced by Ewan Pearson, but this wasn’t another set of dance tracks with Thorn’s ethereal vocals ghosting over them, but a series of wonderful, sparky songs that drew on Thorn’s own life, loves and experiences, and that leapt out from the page. A career renaissance, of sorts perhaps, or a new chapter that I loved from the start. To state this by example, Grand Canyon is still one of my favourite electronic pop records of the last two decades. And there were some amazing remixes too, of course.

Come 2010 and its follow-up Love And Its Opposite, was, while less of the surprise of its forebear, is still a earnestly beautiful album. Less sparky, more mournful, tracking love and loss in middle age with elan and panache. Sorrow never too deep, joy never false, confirming Thorn as a brilliant songwriter and musician all over again. Of course, Pearson made sure it sounded as fantastic as Out Of The Woods. There was even a quirky but utterly lovely Christmas album – Tinsel and Lights – in 2012 that captured the reality (good and bad, laid bare) of what the festive period means in this modern age, and is the only recent Christmas effort that I ever play. Joy still makes me shed a tear on a regular basis.

Fast forward to 2018, and a lot, it’s fair to say, has changed since 1982, even 2007. Because while Thorn’s still writing music, there’s much more to her than simply a musical renaissance woman and borderline national treasure. A column for the New Statesman, feminist activist, author and campaigner: even following her introspective Twitter feed doesn’t really cover everything, but it’s through this wider persona that I developed a bona fide intellectual crush on her. Her brilliant memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen, dovetailed wonderfully with Watt’s own poignant books on his own near-death and illustrious parents, and marked her out as much more than just a pop memoirist, but a woman with something to say. And in the era of #MeToo, it’s arguable to say that Record has arrived at an almost perfect confluence of so many parts of the last few decades of her life. The fact that I’m a 43-year old that grew up not log after Thorn’s generation makes all of the subjects and reference points seem all the more close to home, but really, it’s a statement, almost a manifesto for living in the modern world.

Put simply, I think it’s one of the best pop records of the last decade. And it’s much more than simply an album. Thorn’s openly confronted the misogyny of being lazily labelled a ‘quirky’ (and that is the the lightest in a grim litany of terminology she faces on a weekly basis) woman, and given many great interviews that explains the context of making it.  Described as ‘feminist bangers’, it’s the best way to summarise the album’s spirit. From Queen’s opening, bleepy, breezy laments, through first single Sister‘s feminist call (“And I fight like a girl”) to arms, it’s an utterly modern palette of beautiful pop music, seen through the eyes of a woman who’s seen many of life’s highs and lows (the steely and world-weary “What year is it? The same old shit”) but come out determinedly swinging. I’m only a new parent now, but listening to Go is a punch in the heart delivered in a velvet glove. And while the songs – sprinkled with Pearson’s disco stardust again – are musically polished and melodically gorgeous, its the lyrics that are arguably the strong point here. Its also is no surprise there’s been gigantic remixes already that are a must for house fans, but they’re an added bonus to the whole experience.

Let none of that take away from the fact that there’s few albums around this decade that have combined great songwriting, fantastic tunesmithery and political and social relevance like this one. I can only hope you can get what I have out of it.



Music, writing, and living.

12 thoughts on “MAY – Tracey Thorn – Record

  1. Thanks for the album Guy and thanks for a great write-up. I have played through a number of times but I think your words will make me listen with new ears next time round. I’ll save my comments until I have lived with this a little more. Thank you.

  2. I re-read my post and it’s a bit over the top! But bloody hell, I do love Tracey. So ner.

    Glad it’s going down well. Sister is one of my favourite singles for a long, long time. Almost perfect.

    1. Agreed. It’s a beauty. I was worried it was going to be one single + filler but that’s totally not the case. I was also a little worried that song writing + electronic production was going to trouble me as it often doesn’t meld but I am really starting to feel it all colliding beautifully.

  3. I have been to London today for work. In my car at 06:20, then train, then walk – I had this on all way … and half the way back. I am really enjoying it. None of us will gain any ‘cool points’ for recommending this to anyone who may be described as the youth but … hey. I like it. My wife likes it. It’s getting rinsed. Thank you Brother Guy. Nice one.

    David. Nolan. What’s up brothers?

  4. Sorry for the delay in getting up to speed, Brothers. Anyway, here I am. Wanted to make sure I’d had a good few listens before I chipped in.

    So. Everything you say about this record, Brother Guy, is spot on. It’s warm, it’s smart, it’s full of clever, wise lyrics, great pop hooks. It’s got the whole package. There’s only problem for me, but unfortunately it’s quite a big one – there’s something about it that makes me struggle to get through it. And I’ve been trying and trying to put my finger on what it is. And I think it’s this – that maybe I don’t want my pop music to feel a bit middle aged. I mean, it’s where I am, why wouldn’t I want to hear my own life experiences explored? I don’t know why. But there’s something comfortable and warm about it that also feels like it has no edge or anxious energy. And I think that starts to feel a little overwhelming over the course of the album.

    I remember having that experience with the Pet Shop Boys, whom I had adored for their first 4 or 5 albums. They started sounding comforting and comfortable and then I switched off. Now, that’s probably an unfair comparison – especially as Thorn is lying her soul bare as a middle aged woman here, and really touching on some really prescient issues, in a very articulate and poignant way. So I don’t think think it’s the lyrics, or her voice, which I’ve always loved every since the very first EBTG album. I think it’s the tasteful electronica, the strings, the hooks. They feel cocooned in a perfect musical safety blanket, and I end up longing for a bit of mess or dischord or something to disrupt its carefully constructed perfection.

    What I’m trying to say is that this is a great record, and the problem is mine, I think. But I have yet to make it through the album without having my finger hover over the skip button. That’s not fair, is it? Tracey’s given us something lovely and here I am struggling to engage with it. Personal taste’s a funny thing, huh?

    1. Brother David – I think I was expecting a reaction something like that … but you’ve put it very well. I agree with what you’ve said and think that my comment of ‘there’s no cool-points associated with this album’ is a much cruder form of what you’ve said. I think I went through a bit of a ‘should I let myself like this’ moment and just chose the other route.

  5. Nice responses, brothers. I do get where you’re coming from, and I’m sure there’s a bit of raging against the dying of the light, wanting your music to be scruffy, or discordant or different. We all feel that. I still do. But there’s also something dissonant about that: we’re all comfortably in our 40s, with families, we rarely go out much any more and when we do we’re unlikely to be surrounded by kids. It begs the question: how realistic is a viewpoint that contradicts with the lives we lead? I’d argue that while there’s a lot of great music around, much outside electronic music is alien to me and listening to Radio 1 makes me feel ANCIENT.

    But I get where you’re coming from. This album is musically, lyrically and melodically wonderful, and it’s emotionally powerful. In fact now I’m a dad I’m finding that I am seeing records in new lights, and also that elements of this record – and past music that Thorn’s put out – really tug at my heart in ways they didn’t before. But it’s not a challenging record, it’s not musically innovative, it’s a really warm, comforting blanket of music that makes its point through subtlety and nuance. It doesn’t hit you in the face. It’s not the power of a ‘Something Great’ or a ‘All My Friends’ or the scraggy challenge that something like Jon Hopkins or Underworld presents. It’s not as slick or rough as Kendrick (pick your track). But it’s not trying to be those things either.

    I did wonder if this would be the case, but I’m embracing aspects of my middle age with vigour. I’m still listening to electronic music and all sorts, but many of the bands I love are around my ages as well (Murphy, Taylor, Yorke). Maybe you should have a think too! 🙂

  6. I have gone 360 on this album. On some days I love it and some days it grates on me. The sticking point is that perhaps if not in the right mood it’s too descriptive. Smoke is a great example of this. But then on the other hand it’s a great song that so many will have as an anthem.

    The argument I’m having with myself is that every song is noticeably delving deep into the thoughts at Tracy Thorn. I have no issues with this but perhaps song after song I find it a bit too much. At this point essentially recognise I’m being a dick and I need to be more open minded. Perhaps it’s the pop sound of the record. Maybe if she was sat with a guitar I would like it more. But that’s not the point, she likes pop and that’s what she’s done (once again realised I’m being a dick).

    There are highs and lows on this album but I have a beef with Dancefloor. I think all of us want to be on a dancefloor, and all could but for many reasons choose against it. I’m middle aged and I like the idea of dancefloors but I find they are too young or full of people my age that want to listen to old songs that remind themselves of their youth. It begs the question; you could still go to a dancefloor but instead you’ve written a song about not being on one?

    I’m not sure what I’m trying ot say about this album really, I like it, and I want to get it, but I’m still getting my head around it.

  7. What a great discussion – it’s funny that the albums we all like don’t get as many words written about them on the blog.

    Guy your response was fascinating. I do agree with many of your points but don’t think the choice of music is as binary as ‘not for us’ / ‘for us’ (and I appreciate that I’ve been pretty excessive in my paraphrasing). There are plenty of people making music that I think is pretty agnostic to age or generation, there are plenty of tracks about getting older that still have bite and edge and all of the lovely scrungy stuff that makes us feel younger and vital. Is ‘loosing my edge’ the best example of this? I of course think so as it is in my top 10 tracks of all time (which obviously changes regularly to reinforce the point Im trying to make at that given time).

    I like this record, I love Guy’s write up. I totally understand David’s comments and Nolan’s additions. In fact Nolan’s comment ‘Im not sure what I”m trying to say about this album really …’ is spot on. I don’t either. But on the balance of all emotions. I like it. I am glad I have it in my life and I am grateful for this debate and this blog brothers. Keep it up.

  8. Very interesting brothers. This is a really good discussion, and the reason we really did the blog, to lock horns on what music means to us.

    It’s fascinating as it’s not black and white – so perhaps I didn’t express myself that well on this – and music means different things to different people for the same reasons. I find her songwriting great because it does chime with many things I feel, but it IS very personal and if you like your music less autobiographical and more esoteric then i totally get that this may grate a little after a while, despite the production, the melodies and the vocals – all of which are a pretty great concoction. I think everyone has something that chimes with them personally. I fully get Losing My Edge as the anthem for those 40-something men (and older) that used to be cool one time, and now we’re (failing to) push back against the tide of younger, more enthusiastic kids to whom our musical touchstones are just relics or, even worse, meaningless. But I guess that’s also what getting old is about, and music is a companion to that, but what hits the spot for one of us doesn’t for others. I think what I love about Record is that it’s pretty open and heartfelt (even if some of it, like Face, feels clunky), and it is deeply personal. No metaphor, just reality. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

    But what I would say is that just because it’s very much of a time and place doesn’t mean it’s not possible to just let it wash over you and enjoy the music. There’s plenty of things I love that I just don’t care much about the lyrics and let things go and just let it sit there. Plus given I often read or walk or do stuff while I’m listening it’s not always easy for me to connect with music than I used to when I could devote hours and hours to it. Free time is sliced up so much against reading, exercise, and everything else. That’s something – a loss, of sorts – that I’m still coming to terms with. Life, and fatherhood, is just a constant adjustment, eh?

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