"This is just my heart laid bare / For anyone who might care," Tracey Thorn sings on her new solo album.
It's the mission statement of an anti-diva. When it seems every girl singer on the planet is turning cartwheels and screaming to be heard, the Everything But The Girl chanteuse does--as she has for the last twenty-five years--a whole lot with a little. Limited range, breathiness, occasional flat notes--none of these stand in the way of Thorn speaking quietly from that heart laid bare. And to my ears, she communicates more ache in a single line than a hundred Beyoncés.
Thorn's gift for minimalism also informs her songwriting. The street map and cigarettes in the runaway's tale, "A-Z." Pictures of Doisneau's Kiss and Siouxsie Sioux on the wall of an old bedroom in the ode to youth, "Hand Up To The Ceiling." The trail of Scooby-Doo's and Pokemons that are left behind in a neglected wife's escape from a bad marriage in "Falling Off A Log." These small details resonate emotionally, trading subtlety for the kind of big statements that seem to be in fashion songwriting-wise these days.
After a seven-year hiatus (she was raising her three children), Thorn's voice is surely a welcome sound. And it's good to hear her doing ballads again. The last two EBTG albums embraced the post-"Missing" dancefloor groove almost to the exclusion of the duo's early sound. When Tracey does get dance-y on this album, as on "Raise The Roof" and the catchy single "It's All True," it's pure '80s, with big snares, brassy synths and a tongue-in-cheekiness that keeps it light.
As to why she chose to return with a solo album rather than with her partner Ben Watt, Thorn said recently, "The danger was we'd fall back into the same patterns. That I'd get lazy and I'd delegate to him. Because I'm still largely a mum, he'd inevitably have more time to focus on the record than I would. I wanted to go at my pace. And it was slow. It took the best part of a year from start to finish."
It was worth the wait. Good to have you back, Tracey.