Going Solo with a story to tell

Tracey Thorn's sensitivity shines in Solo.
Tracey Thorn's sensitivity shines in Solo.PHOTO: CAROLINE INTERNATIONAL

Most folk over the age of 40 know Tracey Thorn as one half of the English sophisti-pop duo Everything But The Girl (EBTG), citing Todd Terry's 1995 remix of their single Missing or their 1998 cover of the Danny Whitten song I Don't Want To Talk About It.

This two-disc, 34-track compilation, traversing 33 years from her early days in the post-punk group Marine Girls to her current status as one of England's best female vocalists, should go some distance in revising that mindset.

Thorn herself said of the tracklisting: "Many might think my best work was with Everything But The Girl, or the Marine Girls, or that I should at least include some of those tracks. But, with any interesting compilation, you have to have a story to tell, a unifying theme and here the idea is contained in the single word of the title, Solo."

Those of us who have adored her all these years have always appreciated her thoughtfulness, the gift to glean basic human truths.





    4/5 stars

Together with her EBTG mate and husband, Ben Watt, she writes songs that have the lineaments of short stories. Not surprising, considering that she has transformed herself of late as a writer: a pop memoirist (Bedsit Disco Queen, 2013) and a perspicacious analyst on the art of singing (Naked At The Albert Hall, 2015).

Solo then tracks the journey where she ventures outside the comfortable confines of EBTG and Marine Girls to sing her own compositions, interpret others' songs or provide guest vocals.

Tellingly, the album tracklisting isn't chronological, but rather anchored on a dialogue between her youthfulness and middle-age quizzicalness.

Early songs, such as Plain Sailing and Small Town Girl from her 1982 solo debut A Distance Shore, showcase a certain petulant richness in that caramel voice.

A rarity is her inclusion of her 1983 cover of Goodbye Joe by the English new wave band The Monochrome Set, where one marvels at how timeless the then 21-year-old sounds even accompanied by a simple electric riff and acoustic strums.

She juxtaposes it with a 2010 song, Hormones, from Love And Its Opposite, when she was already in her late 40s. It is a lovely ode to her teenage daughter, where she acknowledges the girl's growing up and her own growing old. With age, her voice has attained the patina of wisdom.

Throughout, her sensitivity shines. You're moved by her luminous generosity on Overture, a 2008 song by Hungarian chamber pop group The Unbending Trees; the exquisite 2012 dancey-pop take on Sufjan Stevens' Yuletide song Sister Winter; and the wonderfully chill vocals in the 1984 seven-inch bossa version of Venceremos (We Will Win), which also features Robert Wyatt and Claudia Figueroa.

When Thorn moves to the dancefloor, her lux queenliness is nonpareil. Whether strutting like a soul-pop Nefertiti on The Style Council's 1984 song The Paris Match, smoking up a cover of The xx's 2009 track Night Time, or delivering a masterclass on understatement on Massive Attack's 1995 trip-hop gems Protection and Better Things, she is always cool - maybe too cool for hipsters. Perfect.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Going Solo with a story to tell'. Print Edition | Subscribe