It's always a momentous occasion when Tracey Thorn graces us with new material, especially since Everything But The Girl took an extended hiatus in 2002. Tracey took the time off to raise her children with EBTG partner (and now husband) Ben Watt, doing the odd guest vocal here and there until 2007 when she released "Out Of The Woods", her second solo album, and first since 1982. Although it did contain a number of dance and electronic tracks, including the fabulous "Grand Canyon", "Out Of The Woods" also contained a lot of acoustic and pop material, a return to Thorn's earlier roots and step back from the almost exclusive dance and club music Everything But The Girl was doing on their last few albums.
"Love And Its Opposite", her newly released third solo album, distances itself even further from the dance floor as there's nary a club track here. But this is an exploration of love and, well, it's opposite at the middle stages of your life, or as Thorn puts it, "Real life after forty." She brilliantly sums up the trials and tribulations of staying in love over the years, from the triumphs to the failures. This isn't a depressing 'love stinks' pity party, this is a mature, fair and balanced rumination on the subject. Young, giddy lovers, this probably isn't the album for you.
Musically, the album is often reserved and sparse. Her cover of The Unbending Trees "You Are A Lover" is nothing more than her stunning voice and reverb soaked guitar. Another cover, Lee Hazelwood's "Come On Home To Me" done as a duet with Jens Lekman, is backed by ambient noises, a chiming keyboard pattern and the occasional scream of a guitar. "Late In The Afternoon" is mostly made up of a rolling electronic beat with some piano added.
The album opens with "Oh, The Divorces!", a lovely dissertation on failed relationships featuring a typically splendid vocal performance, piano and strings. Thorn laments the carnage left behind by marriages that have fallen apart and bravely uses it to examine her own situations' stability. "Who's next, who's next?/Always the ones that you least expect/They seemed so strong/It turned out she wanted more all along/And each time I hear who's to part I examine my heart/See how it stands/Wonder if it's still in safe hands." It's the first of many brilliant lyrical moments on the album.Tracey Thorn / 'Oh, The Divorces!' by buzzinfly
The more upbeat "Hormones", complete with hand claps, rollicking organ and guitar, is the study of a mother facing her stage in life while her daughter is just entering adulthood. Opening with "Yours are just kicking in/Mine are just checking out", the lyrics highlight a number of juxtapositions between where each is at in life, with such bitingly honest lines as "I have to own up, that dress looks better on you now" and "You're at the beginning of this tunnel and I'm just coming out.""Singles Bar" is another wicked lyric, giving a blunt, brutal summation of a middle aged woman still doing the rounds of the tired bar scene. Thorn sings, "Is there room for one more at the singles bar/Been working up the courage all year/I pull off my ring as I push my way in/Won't be needing it here/Can you guess my age in this light?/Who'll be taking me home tonight?" and it's a sad picture of loneliness and desperation she paints.
As good as a lot of the sparser songs are, two of the album's best are more musically fleshed out. "Why Does The Wind?" has a funky bass and drum pattern running throughout with a catchy keyboard line and melody. It's the closest to the dance floor "Love And It's Opposite" comes, and it's a great track. Album closer "Swimming", featuring Cortney Tidwell on drums and backing vocals, mixes electronic beats in with Tidwell's live drumming and builds to a grand, lush melodic finale.
I already feel Tracey Thorn is one of the greatest female vocalists of our time. This album re-confirms you can add greatest lyricists to that description as well. Her new album is a bold, honest work and examination of love, and its opposite. Highly recommended.