Thursday, May 24, 2018

Album Review: Record by Tracey Thorn

I believe Tracey Thorn is the best songwriter of her generation. For more than 30 years now she has been writing about love, family, motherhood, being a woman, her country, our society, etc. and has maintained a steady voice who is both critical of her protagonist as well as the world around her. Now at 55 she has come out with her first record of new music in eight years and she's reflective and thoughtful as always. I will talk a bit more about the record later, but now I want to focus on Thorn the songwriter.

Let's start with the opening track "Queen." "Queen" is a song about a woman looking back at her life and wondering what would have been if the partner in her life had never been in her life, or had been briefly in her life.
In the midst of sleep
Pictures come to me
Memories and Dreams
Things lost that might have been
If you'd broke my heart
Very near the start
Do I sink alone like a stone?
Am I Queen?
A Majesterial has been
I'm on fire
A head full of desire
This is me
I'm someone else entirely
And do I ever find love?

This makes me think back to her song "Understanding" off of the Everything But the Girl album Worldwide.
You're here, but what if you weren't
What would have happened to me
That candle, unburnt, is history
One thing I guess this place would be a mess
For my standards at best are undemanding
And that takes some understanding
Thorn is very good at writing these songs that examine a relationship not just as a passionate thing but as an integral part of the person and who they become and who they are.

I've always loved this line in the song "Shoot Me Down."
Stop my mouth with kisses dear
For ever they will keep me here
And these drunken blasphemies
Must never make us enemies
For we'll have to meet once more
Sober and as strongly bound as before
This is such a simple lyric which has such thought behind it. She has also dealt with this idea of examining your relationship with someone in the song "Good Cop Bad Cop" in a different way.
It's wrong to feel this way, I know it's wrong, I know it's bad
To only see what isn't there to want and want you never had
But you know there's more to me now, don't you?
You always conquer for me, won't you, won't you?

And it used to look half full now some days it looks half empty
And some days it feels like nothing that always use to feel like plenty
I like the fact that in this song the protagonist is saying to their lover that they are having moments where they feel less than what they once did, but at the same time they still want their lover to always conquer for them.

She has also dealt with these emotions more recently in her solo work like the song "It's All True."
We don't need
Any kind of big parade
Just this once, a little serenade
To celebrate this love we've made

We don't need
Don't need a big fanfare
This is just my heart laid bare
For anyone who might care

Go away 'round the world
Talk to all kinds of girls
But it's me you won't find
And you're mine

Close your eyes, count to ten
Turn around back again
Hit the floor, then once more
I'm still here

Like "Queen" all of these songs are dealing with a long term relationship. The commitment that two people have, but also the fights, the negative feelings, the struggles at times.

"Air," the second song on the album hits on another theme that Thorn often comes back to, the idea of being a girl who doesn't fit what society tells boys a traditional girl should be.
I love 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

We can see her writing about these ideas often over the years. Take the song "Ugly Little Dreams."
It's a battlefield Frances
You fight or concede
Victory to the enemy
Who call your strength insanity

What chance for such girls
How can we compete?
In a world that likes its women
Stupid and sweet

But Thorn doesn't just focus on girls and what boys want. She also focuses on what women are asked to give up for those men in songs like "Frost and Fire."
You take the name of a man you hardly know
and then you grow up and that name has to go
married with kids and they don't want to know
about the dreams you had let go
You're still waiting for a knight in shining armour
to steal you against your will
and while you're waiting and doing no harm
you know there's plenty of time to kill
when you say you wouldn't change a day
makes me wonder where I went astray
satisfied with things that leave me tired we're as unlike as Frost and Fire
You can probably guess that song was written when Thorn was younger. That came off of the first Everything But the Girl album. As she got older she reflected on her own choices around these kind of pressures like in the song "Mirrorball."
Well I guess some boys adored me
but the one I loved ignored me,
and caused me in the end to murder my best friend.

And though I got her letter, it never did get better,
and I got out of my head.
Then I joined a band instead.
Thorn's ability to write about this stuff is maybe best reflected in another of her new songs, "Guitar."
Hey boy you only used three chords and opened up the door
And though we kissed and kissed and kissed
You were nothing but a catalyst
I was taken in, I thought you were the star
Thank God I could sing and I had my guitar
I couldn't begin, until I fell apart
Thank God I could sing and that was just the start
I thought it was you, I was wide-eyed and marked
So heavy and new, I picked up my guitar
And started to sing and opened up my heart
It was everything, I thank my lucky stars
Thank God for my guitar
That voice that you hear in all of these songs we get the idea in "Guitar" was released when Tracey Thorn found her voice by singing and playing her guitar. I'm with her thank God for her guitar. As my daughter gets older and listens to music it's artist like Thorn who I would like her to turn to. Female artist who give a real voice to the thoughts and ideas of being a woman in Western society.

I'm not going to break down every song on the new album but I do want to look at one more as I find this theme of Ms. Thorn's to be one of my all time favorites. You will find her singing about it on the new song "Face," where we find her protagonist sitting up late at night clicking on an ex-lovers Facebook page.
Saw your page, lovely new life
Lots of likes, lovely new wife
On my phone, you're in my home
I'm on my own, in monochrome
I wanna put you behind me, I wanna put you to bed

Wait, what was I thinking?
Oh what have I said?
Is that me or Freud talking?
Or me on wine?
I shouldn't be clicking
On your new Valentine
I shouldn't be lurking, but look here I am

Giving into temptation, not giving a damn
If I just keep refreshing, maybe you'll disappear
If I just make you jealous, then you'll wish you were here
Baby look at the time now, I should just go to bed
It's send or delete now, on all that I've said
I'm closing your page now, are you looking at mine

Do you scroll through my photos
Just to check that I'm fine
With a casual disinterest
Or a trace of regret
Or stabbed through your heart
When you think how we met
If I just knew for certain
That you weren't having fun
I could bring down the curtain
It would prove that I won

But your face is in my face
And you're all over the place
I'm lost without a trace
And your face is in my face
I wish you'd vanish without a trace
But your life is all over the place
And your face is in my face
Your face is in my face
This is brilliant writing and it is such a Tracey Thorn song. I don't know of anyone who deals with this kind of stuff like her. One of my all time favorite EBTG songs is "Cross My Heart."
Now and then
Do you wash your hands of me again?
Wish me anywhere but home
Drunk and on the end of your phone

From time to time
Do you guess what's really on my mind?
Guess that "How you keeping now?"
Means "Where are you sleeping now"

But of course it's not polite
To ask you where you spent last night
And if I did you might reply
That I have no right
And anyway I'm fine
Glad that you're no longer mine
If I should tell a lie
I'll cross my heart and hope to die

You'd be appalled
If you knew what I was doing
When you called
Yes, I can see I'm blundering
Always end up wondering

Will it ever be alright
To ask you where you spent last night
And can it be polite
The way we never write,
Of course I don't have the time,
And anyway I'm fine
If I should tell a lie
I'll cross my hear and hope to die

I hope we never die
"Wish me anywhere but home drunk and on the end of your phone," is just so wonderful. There are two angles that Thorn likes to tackle on this theme. One we have seen the idea of the scorned lover holding onto and wishing they weren't holding onto the past. But there is also the new lover who fears the past of the other like in the song "Fascination."
Reassure me when my hearts
Not bold enough to bear her name
If you were in my shoes
And scared I would do the same
And though I may ask
There's no need for past details
Although I may laugh alone
My courage fails
Did you know

See how I've changed now
My heads so clear
Still there are some things
That I don't want to hear
There must be so much I know
That you cannot forget
And I mustn't wish your life began
The day we met
Thorn has a way of looking at a relationship and picking it apart in her songs. In these instances she's dealing with past relationships or new relationships, but she's also good at looking at dying relationships like in the song "No Difference."
So you fix a drink
Cause it's time to drown
And the clock speeds up
And then it slows right down
The life that we have missed
I think it still exists
How can you resist?
If we go back to the first song "Queen" and we think about how Thorn sees these long term relationships lasting. And then we look at these songs. About sad people caught in their past, or people afraid of their partners past, it seems to me that this is how we end up at the space our character is in in the final song here "No Difference."

These are just thoughts I had this morning and I should probably spend more time and think them out further, but I wanted to get these thoughts down before I forgot them.

 Lyrically this new album is very good. It's the best writing she has done in quite some time I think and if you are a Tracey Thorn fan I don't think you can dislike this album. I'm not the biggest fan of the productions or arrangements and so following the Rhapsody rating method I give it 2 out of 5 stars for Not Bad.


  1. Seriously, Tracey Thorn should punch you in the face for having her read this thing and then getting only the same amount of stars as Anne-Marie and Jason Aldean did earlier today.

    Great insights into all of these songs. That song about checking out her ex's Facebook page is really good.

  2. I have to admit I had the same thought about the rating.