Nearly 40 years into her career now Tracey Thorn is making her best music with each new release. The last half-decade or so has seen a handful of brilliant solo efforts – with a career-sampler hits package worth checking and just before that a wonderful slim-volume soundtrack that was the best thing by far about a bad movie.
And now, with Record, Thorn has made, yet again, some of her very best music.
There are classic 80s synths here – and you’ll think not just of Everything But The Girl but on at least two tracks here (Guitar, Smoke) there are traces of Annie Lennox.
Described by Thorn as “nine feminist bangers” Record might be talked up elsewhere as the first great album for #MeToo of 2018. And maybe it is. But it’s also far more than that. And put simply: it’s just a terrific record, a near-perfect set of songs.
One of the things I love about this is how artfully Thorn can spin the minutiae – there’s this dopey old adage that being content won’t allow for good art; that the simple, boring pleasures (and non- pleasures) of life are not the subject/s for great writing. That’s obviously horseshit, and if you ever needed more proof then Record can stand on its own as a towering achievement to show exactly that.
Here Thorn sings about wanting children, all the nights pacing halls when those children wouldn’t sleep, the heartbreak and pride of those children leaving home, heading off out into the world to be something outside of who they were at home.
She sings too of female beauty, challenging the stereotypes; always observing – one of the best qualities in Thorn’s lyrics. She is stoic, she is never detached. She’s there. So present. In voice. In heart. In mind.
Record bursts out of the gate with Queen, stroppy synth lines, a near-disco pulse, it’s a reminder of what happened when EBTG first went electro. It’s hooky and catchy and full of goodness. Subtly anthemic. Which could be a tagline or catchphrase for a great deal of Thorn’s finest work with bands and solo, as cameo artist too.
Guitar is a return to Queen’s strobing sound and Smoke might be the most EBTG-sounding song here, musically. The lyric a deep meditation on identity.
Sister is the album’s centrepiece – and the song that will, rightfully, get the most column inches. It arrives in the middle of the album and takes up a full eight minutes of Record’s slim 35-minute run-time.
“Don’t mess with me”, Thorn purrs with pride. “Don’t hurt my babies”, she says addressing her pride. “I’ll come for you”, is the next snarl. “You’ll find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew”. All of this riding along on an insatiable mid-tempo disco-soul groove. Corinne Bailey Rae and Warpaint are on board for this anthem of sisterhood and solidarity.
Good, groovy music that’s thoughtful and wise. Just when you couldn’t ask for more than that, Thorn gives so much more – the lilting, minimalist ballad Go, the humour and frustration of Babies, another personal (hilarious) lyric married to a dancefloor-hook.
“Get the fuck to bed now” she intones. The memories run deep, the humour is bold, inventive. At 55 Thorn is singing her life, a series of ongoing observations. She writes off social media on Sister, but particularly on Face which is the most moving song here (“I’m on my own/in monochrome”). You could weep any time you heard this, for the lyric, and the performance. Thorn is so great with story, so great at storytelling.
Dancefloor is the upbeat closer. Another reminder of EBTG’s best (dancefloor) features.
The first great album of 2018 is here. It’s as if a diary has been opened up, you’ve been encouraged to peek.
It’s also subtle enough to exist as simply an album of great grooves and hooks – but at some point, whether on first of 15th listen, the words will hit you; the impact of it, the sincerity, the cleverness, the crafting, the paring back, the introspection, the retrospective, the illumination.
Thorn’s work across the 2010s has been filled with highlights – add two brilliant books in and around the albums. But Record is an absolute (new) peak.
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