It was that voice—sultry, sensitive, wry—that helped construct the legend that is Tracey Thorn. But some legends have diminutive beginnings, and this British singer-songwriter's were found in the British suburbs of Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Dual passions, language and music, put Thorn on a path that would irrevocably alter the course of her life. By 1982, Thorn had already been in two bands and released her first solo album A Distant Shore, when she met fellow artist Ben Watt, her eventual long term creative and romantic partner. Watt and Thorn came together as Everything But the Girl and put out their debut Eden in 1984. Thirty-four years, several reinventions and ten albums later, the pair stood atop an enviously impressive body of work.
After Watt and Thorn placed Everything But the Girl into what was to become an ongoing state of suspended animation in 2000, the self-professed “bedsit disco queen” went on to release three more solo offerings intermittently over a six-year period. It was not surprising that on each of these records, musically, their eclecticism ran the gamut—folk, adult contemporary pop, dance. As the mainstream realm of popular music began its inexorable march into homogeneity in the last decade, it was increasingly difficult for these exceptional recordings to find a wider audience. Not that this bothered Thorn. Arriving at her last record in 2012, the holiday inspired Tinsel and Lights, Thorn had accepted that her music was reaching the people she wanted it to reach.
It's with an understanding of that history that Thorn's fifth album, Record, comes into joyful being. A definite contender for best album of 2018, it possesses a coy sense of extroverted might, but it doesn't undercut Thorn's familiar reserved nature either. Record blends bold dance-pop colors into a compelling aural cocktail. There are anthemic synth-pop entries (“Queen,” “Guitar”), electro-funk jams (“Air,” “Dancefloor”) and much, much more.
These musical guises are not foreign to Thorn or those who have been tracking her creative career through the decades. Driving the songs is Thorn's voice, a vital ingredient that hasn't dulled, its warmth and character as divine as ever. Outside of Thorn's own instrument, producer and colleague Ewan Pearson handles the job of building up each song around Thorn's voice and lyrics. Needless to say, he exceeds any and all expectations.
Thorn remains in thorough command of her songwriting, its biting wit and storytelling skills apparent on every song she penned on Record. The long player leans into an autobiographical stance, some of it is inward gazing, as heard on “Guitar,” some of it actively stands in the present tense as a woman of experience in the modern world, as portrayed on “Sister.” “Sister,” featuring fellow British chanteuse Corinne Bailey Rae, is just one of two pieces spotlighting a guest alongside Thorn; another English vocalist, Shura, joins Thorn on “Air.” Rae and Shura don't crowd the leading lady here, instead they accent and support her.
In a time when true art is becoming scarcer and scarcer, Tracey Thorn is an undiminished force to be reckoned with on Record, from start to finish.
Notable Tracks: “Air” | “Dancefloor” | “Guitar” | “Queen”