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Music Review: Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods

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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.

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About Peter Chakerian

  • http://www.midnightlounge.net midnight lounge

    How can you compare a solo release from 25 years ago with an album that follows an impressive track ebtg track record? Sure OOTW is no Distant Shore, but Walking Wounded certainly isn’t Idlewild, either. Is Tracey not allowed to grow, loosen up and just have fun?

    And so what if you perceived her mood to be wanting to escape…she’s a mother of three for piss sake; I wanna see what the girl does!

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Nice review, Peter, although I am disappointed to hear this. I agree that she has one of the great melancholy voices in the pop landscape. Pity that seems to have been wasted on this.

  • http://www.joyrides4shutins.typepad.com Peter

    Thanks. Yeah, no one was more disappointed than me in having to write the review. She is one of those talents who I am incredibly fond of. But you have to call them honestly.

    Maybe this can lay the groundwork for another commentary on “When Artists Go Soft,” or some such a thing. Hmmmm….

  • xolondon

    Hmmm, taste is taste. It’s never easy to explain why someone doesn’t like a record and someone else is really loved by it.

    Not sure what you were expecting, but I think we heard different albums. The record I heard is one that spans the sounds of her career, from folky acoustic (Hand Up To The Ceiling – a teaser title!) to lush dancepop (It’s All True and Raise The Roof) late-EBTG dance tracks (Grand Canyon).

    One song, Nowhere Near, is close to the finest ballad she has ever done and an honest depiction of her life now. I don’t hear the, to quote you, “shunning of responsibilities” in a line like “gets me running up stairs to count heads in tangled beds.” How many times did you play the record? Did you catch that line.

    It’s not a perfect record – there are some cringey cliches here and there, but it is a “grower” record in many respects. The single may fool people into thinking they are buying something more uptempo, I suppose.

    I hope people will try this album themselves and not just walk away from it thinking it is a, to quote you again, “Soccer mom” record. [Trite putdown to moms, by the way.] If you really think she is a great as you imply, then I hope you’ll live with the record a bit more before you toss that promo out.

  • xolondon

    Pardon my typo in the first line. I meant to say someone else is MOVED by it, not loved by it. Although I am sure Tracey loves me!

  • redekmanguz

    Your review largely reflects your personal taste. That’s your prerogative. But I’m very sure you can do better as a critic.

    As much as Tracey Thorn must be afforded room for improvement in her latest endeavour, so must you as a critic. My rating of your review: 3/10, mostly for your effort.

    Next time, outline your aesthetic standards and merit or demerit a work from there. Be more mindful of presenting specific illustrations rather than relegating your opinion to generalisations that may be catchy but not sound for critical analysis.

    Your review is replete of this. To illustrate, here are some of those statements: “Woods settles into an unsettling bit of dance music autopilot. Bo-ring… the mood is one of escape, shunning of responsibilities and feels like a mixtape for Sunday morning shopping at the Urban Outfitters… a soundtrack to the Soccer Mom’s Saturday Night Dance Party, if such a thing exists… comes across as both trite and predicated.”

    Employing these sweeping generalisations can only be justified when vis-a-vis a lyrical and musical analysis of the work/s in question. And you utterly failed to offer this. Hence, a critique of the critic is in order. Albeit unsolicited, be more mindful of your work.

  • Dee

    I dunno, mate. I think he’s right on. Dance music IS a complete toss-off mostly. I’ve heard this record and concur. She can do better and has, even very recently. I think “utterly failed” is a bit terse, wouldn’t you say? It sounds like you might actually be defending her? Which is fine. But let’s be clear on couching “critique” in word-of-the-day rhetoric and verbal puffery. It seems only to serve you as attempting to shame the author with big words. If you heard the record, tell us why it deserves a better review. And, perhaps more importantly, what you liked about it.

  • redekmanguz

    Thank you so much Dee for pointing that out. “Utterly failed,” is indeed terse. And so is, “the blandest and most deadened thing.”

  • akira

    Slowly but surely, this album has the ability to grow on you.

  • amattia

    For Piss sake! I like that. Peter, I think I’ll look elsewhere for credible reviews. I haven’t even heard OOTW yet but your review is ridiculously simplistic. To take the most amazing voice and song writing talent and hold her to one album (her first is it) with no mention of the vertical and lateral poles of her career seems … prissy and insensitive. I’ll come back and eat crow, raw crow if Out Of The Woods even hints at Sunday, soccer mom mall muzak to me. I promise but otherwise, I’m looking elsewhere for insightful and responsible reviews.

  • Alfie

    For Piss sake! I like that.
    Peter, I think I’ll look elsewhere for credible reviews. Your review is ridiculously simplistic. To take such a remarkable voice and song writing talent and hold her to one album (her first is it) with no mention of the vertical and lateral poles of her career seems … prissy and insensitive. All or at least most of Thorn’s music grows in weight and power with repeat visits. Timelessness is a word that applies to much of TT’s work but it isn’t noticeable on first take. I’ll come back and eat crow, raw crow if Out Of The Woods doesn’t grow into the rich texture of her work. I promise but otherwise, I’m looking elsewhere for insightful and responsible reviews. Sunday, soccer mom mall muzak has got to be one for the book of critic slurs.

  • http://www.myspace.com/oken Petar

    Did we listen the same album ? I don’t think so. This is simply nice and creative energy pointing in all you haters out there. Take a look what is happening with a common pop music, this album is the gem among the others. Shame on you !
    Petar.

  • gaydanceman532

    I think the reviewer is right, actually. Bored me to tears. Tracey has made me cry before, but not like this… the people defending her are just as “subjective” as their claims describing his review. He’s brave for saying what he did.

  • Scott Deitche

    Just found this review.

    THis effort is a mixed bag- though the worst tracks on here are still better than most anything else out there.

    “Raise the Roof” and “hands to the Ceiling” – not so good.

    “Falling off a Log”, and “Grand Canyon”- some of her best vocals in years

    “Easy”- evocative, emotive, amazing