Tracey Thorn has been one of my favorite singers ever since the first time I heard Everything but the Girl-which was either when “Driving” was a minor black radio hit in 1990 or when “Missing” was on it’s way to becoming a career-defining smash five years later (in it’s inferior remixed version, although that’s neither here nor there). Like a lot of British singing divas (think Sade, Lisa Stansfield, Alison Moyet), Tracey had the ability to wring the emotion out of a song’s lyric without going into vocal acrobatics. Whether conveying sadness or wistful longing, Tracey always hit the emotional spot, even after EBTG made their transition from classy pop to dance-inflected sounds.
EBTG’s been on hiatus for almost a decade now, and Tracey’s solo debut, “Out of the Woods” (from back in 2007) was a solid bridge between the club-savvy sound that she’d been trading on for the past decade and the more laid-back, adult pop sound that defined the first part of her career. Her latest album, “Love and It’s Opposite”, leans more in the adult pop direction. This is totally fine, since Thorn’s voice sounds great no matter the musical background. However, the production on this album is secondary to the subject matter-“Love & It’s Opposite” is a loose concept album about aging, and it’s one of the most honest albums about growing older (a subject that eludes most female vocalists) that I’ve ever heard.
It’s almost fitting that the first song I heard from “Love and It’s Opposite” was “Hormones”, a deceptively light sounding rumination on…menopause? Actually, that’s oversimplification. The song actually serves as a story about a woman facing her change of life while her teenage daughter deals with her own change. It’s lyrically poignant in a way that’s become Thorn’s trademark (while also not sounding like an audio companion to “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Thank goodness).
Elsewhere, Tracey tackles songs about fear of commitment (“Long White Dress”) and the end of marriages (“Oh, the Divorces”) with maturity and humor (one unforgettable couplet: “He was a charmer/I wish him bad karma”). Some of the songs here are absolutely haunting, like the beautiful “Come on Home to Me”, featuring Swedish vocalist Jens Lekman (giving us warm memories of the EBTG songs on which Tracey and hubby Ben Watt harmonize). Some songs are in a somewhat lighter vein and won’t be total culture shock to fans of EBTG’s more club-conscious (like the album closer “Swimming”, which has a Sunday morning comedown vibe). Truth is, no matter the musical backing, Tracey Thorn remains a unique and essential artist. “Love & It’s Opposite” is a courageous and engaging effort that scores on all fronts and stands as one of the stronger entries in Thorn’s formidable catalog.