A mere 25 years after her debut album (A Distant Shore) gained iconic appreciation, Tracey Thorn releases her second solo album. Inbetween she has been no slouch, unassumingly becoming the hushed voice of a generation from the indie acoustic amateurism of The Marine Girls, to the indie pop of Everything But The Girl through to their electronica makeover and subsequent patronage of Tracey’s pipes on tracks by Massive Attack and Deep Dish. What’s a quarter of a century between albums, between friends?
Comparisons between the two albums seems unfair but remains compelling to do. The self-conscious acoustic immediacy of her debut and its sheer brevity (all 23 minutes of it) packed a melancholic punch that couldn’t be repeated. But here the na�ve doubts and despairs over the flush of young love have been replaced with more mature thoughts of leaving and escape. With titles like Raise The Roof and Hands Up To The Ceiling the air is of 30-something’s still seeking escape out on the dancefloor while the burgeoning responsibilities of domestic life loom large in the shadows.
Herein lies the trouble. Thorn’s voice will always be a thing of undimmed charm and emotion, but the gulf between the music styles on display here, which flick from 70’s disco, piano ballads and electro-pop seem like trying to keep a foot in both camps of the simpler days of her youth, and the �hip’ dance crowd. Her voice is always suited to the more downbeat / downtempo tracks rather than the clubland tracks which are as anonymous as the genre could be.
The quaint and other-worldly folk of opener Here It Comes Again calls to mind recent folk converts such as Lou Rhodes (ex-Lamb) and Beth Gibbons (ex-Portishead) with its muted horns and harmonium autumnal sweetness. Its skeletal sepia-tones seem beamed in stuck in musical amber. The following A-Z continues this with a slab of glacial oddity that stalks and shimmers its tale of alienation and small town escape.
Then things get ‘dancey’. Quite frankly it’s a bit embarrassing. Like �dad dancing’. It’s All True is spangly disco nonsense that sounds like a New Order b-side reject. Get Around To It is a nasty overlong �funky house’ wannabe. Falling Off A Log is limp and insipid.
Balance is restored on the sympathetic Easy as the cinematic splinters of twilight-techno make sense of Thorn’s heart-melting voice, much the way Massive Attack did. Likewise the scope and hymn-like quality of Nowhere Near with its muted horns and stately piano of “how it is when love forgets to speak its name” is a beautiful, heartfelt glimpse of domestic life and its bewilderment.
Grand Canyon is a slab of deep minimal House telling of “coming home” on the dancefloor which comes close to the success of Missing in its clubland torch-song but seems unnecessary here and seems to know it. Likewise Raise The Roof rounds things off with its feet still in clubland, waving its hands in the air…like anyone cares.
After such a long lay-off and the last EBTG album Temperamental being such a stodgy, vapid affair, expectations were high for this album. This desperation of clinging to youthful pursuits is sad and melancholic but why the shiny disco ball-less music? Not, on the other hand that the world needs songs about changing the baby and kids tantrums in supermarkets.
The feeling is that the experimentation that began the album was felt too ‘out there’ and a retreat into safer (i.e. duller) waters of bland dance music would save the day. A good album when it shines, which is frequently, just soured by the fact it could have been great.