Can it be that Out of the Woods is the first solo album for Everything But The Girl’s vocal star in 25 years? Hard to believe, but true – Thorn’s first solo album A Distant Shore was recorded 1982, only moments before she joined EBTG. It might well have been the most scant, smoldering 23-minute bit of melancholy ever committed to tape.
What’s even harder to believe? That Out of the Woods is, as an album, the blandest and most deadened thing Thorn has ever put her name on. Despite collaborations with Tom Gandey (Cagedbaby) and Ewan Pearson – and despite a beguiling one-two punch of “Here it Comes Again” and “A-Z,” which really prime listeners for a scaled back Shore-like experience – Woods settles into an unsettling bit of dance music autopilot. Bo-ring.
Comparing the two albums seems unfair, but it just cannot be helped. An instant classic, Shore ruminated on unrequited love and thoughts of despair. With song titles like “Raise the Roof,” “Hands Up to the Ceiling” and the single “It’s All True,” the mood is one of escape, shunning of responsibilities and feels like a mixtape for Sunday morning shopping at the Urban Outfitters.
Maturity is one thing; a soundtrack to the Soccer Mom’s Saturday Night Dance Party, if such a thing exists, is something else entirely. Even the cover version of the 1987 Pet Shop Boys song “King's Cross” (a hidden track and expected b-side) comes across as both trite and predicated.
Dance music is largely anonymous, analogous and disposable; it stands to reason that Out of the Woods just doesn’t play up Thorn’s strength and emotional weight as a vocalist. Her voice does better in the swoon of downtempo chillouts, much like Beth Gibbons (Portishead) and Dido (Faithless). Tracey Thorn is the keystone to some truly amazing recordings, but for someone who has made work by EBTG, The Style Council, The Go-Betweens, Massive Attack and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions so stunningly memorable, this is just stunningly disappointing.
Not at all worth a wait of 25 years.