Tracey Thorn Mixes Dance Rhythms With Raw Honesty On 'Record'

Mar 26, 2018
Originally published on March 28, 2018 12:20 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Tracey Thorn came to prominence as half of Everything But The Girl, a British pop duo she formed with Ben Watt, which continued until 2000. The two later married and had children, with Thorn occasionally releasing solo albums. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Thorn's new one called "Record."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUEEN")

TRACEY THORN: (Singing) Here I go again, down that road again. I haven't solved it yet what happened if we never met. If I'd just ignored....

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Here I go again sings Tracey Thorn at the start of her first album of new material in seven years. And where she goes again this time is back to the dance music rhythms that first brought her to prominence as half of the duo called Everything But The Girl. Working with producer and DJ Ewan Pearson, Thorn uses airy synthesizers and insistent percussion as the backdrop for a series of meditations on being female. Take for example the song called "Sister."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

THORN: (Singing) Don't mess with me. Don't hug my babies. I'll come for you. You'll find you've bitten off more than you can chew. You are the man, but I'm not your baby. I get so scared. I know you own the world. And I fight like a girl. But I am my mother. I am my mother now. I am my sister. And I fight like a girl.

TUCKER: On "Sister," Thorn talks about various female roles - daughter, sister, mother - as well as playing with familiar phrases. When she says in the refrain, I fight like a girl, she inverts its usual signal of weakness implying that actually you would not want to mess with this girl. She also confirms a feeling of sisterhood by sharing the vocals with the British soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae. On the song "Air," She describes all the ways in which, when she was younger than her current 55 years old, she grappled with not being a, quote, unquote, "girly girl" - too tall, all wrong, headstrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIR")

THORN: (Singing) I grew up a girl. Then I went astray, didn't understand the rules I had to play. Too tall. All wrong. Deep voice. Headstrong. I need some air. I need air. I need some air. I need air. And I like the boys, the boys, the boys, the boys, all of the boys. But they like the girly, girly, girly, girly girls and look straight through me like plate glass, like fresh air, like I wasn't even there.

TUCKER: Thorn is the mother of three children, a subject that comes up in the wonderful song called "Babies." Set to a terrifically urgent beat, it starts out discussing birth control and then a later decision to give birth. In other words, it's about having control over your body and your desires.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABIES")

THORN: (Singing) Every morning of the month, you push your little tablet through the foil. Cleverest of all inventions, better than a condom or a coil. 'Cause I didn't want my babies until I wanted babies. And when I wanted babies, nothing else would do but babies. Babies. Babies.

TUCKER: Thorn writes an excellent monthly column for the British publication the New Statesman in which she recommends books she's reading and natters on about everyday life. Her songs contain a similar mix of appreciation for both the literary and the ordinary. This album record presents Thorn as finding common ground with younger women now. Through it all is Thorn's voice, a deep, throaty sound that is at once a comfort and a dare - a challenge to the listener to be as honest as the singer.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Tracey Thorn's new album called "Record." After we take a short break, David Bianculli will review the new reboot of the sitcom "Roseanne." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.