Review: Tracey Thorn’s “Love And Its Opposite”

May 25, 2010 5:52pm


For her third solo album, Everything But The Girl’s vocalist, Tracey Thorn has decided to focus on love and its bitter aftertaste.  She deals with this subject skillfully, delivering ten meditative, well executed tracks, attacking the topic from multiple angles.  Unlike latter period Everything But The Girl records, this is not an electronic release.  There might be a slight drum machine here or there, but mostly, the instrumentation is relatively organic and sparsely arranged. Opener, “Oh, The Divorces!” could stand as the album’s thesis.  It’s a dark, but realistic look as love as it dissolves.  Thorn sings, “He was a charmer. I wish him bad karma.  I know you shouldn’t take sides.”  Backed by a piano and a string section, this sounds like something you would hear in top-notch musical. It’s a little theatrical and confessional dose of wisdom. “Long White Dress” deals with the overall fear of marriage.  One character is a teenager who discovers she can have premarital sex with her boyfriend, while another is a sexually confused man. All of the figures in this song fear walking down that aisle and that “Long White Dress.” “Hormones” is a more upbeat sounding song about presumably a mother and a daughter and their different places in life.  Thorn sings, “Yours are just kicking in and mine are just checking out.”  If I’m reading this right, the mother looks at her daughter with cautious optimism while she finds herself a wreck, “crying at the kitchen sink.”  It’s a unique,perspective. They are just trying to understand each other. “Kentish Town” is a haunted number about seemingly coming back to a ghost town, destroyed perhaps by spoiled memories. “I found the church where you wed. And I stood where you stood.  It didn’t feel the same.  But I came back again. I knew I would.”  It’s almost as if the character here is picking up long shattered pieces and trying to put them back into place.  This song is indeed a highlight. On “Why Does The Wind?” Thorn addresses a flaky lover who is not sure if he loves her.  She poetically addresses the heartbreak of the situation.  “Why does the wind blow through my heart each time I look into your eyes?” she repeatedly asks.  This is quite possibly the most dance-y and upbeat sounding track on the record, but there’s stark sadness hidden within the groove.  Next she covers the song “You Are A Lover,” by the Hungarian band, “The Unbending Trees.”  Her version stands as a highlight and adds a dose of beauty not necessarily found in the still quite enjoyable original version.  In this song, it’s hard to tell if the protagonist is singing to a former lover now in love with someone else, or from the point of view of a burned friend watching a relationship from the sidelines.  Thorn backs herself up with a simple, minimal guitar line and brings the track a tangible sense of sadness.  “Singles  Bar” is about a presumably newly divorced woman taking off her wedding ring and going into a singles bar for the first time in years.  She is uneasy and nervous. “Can you tell my age in this light?” she asks.  At the end, she comes to the depressing realization that if she wants to go home with someone, she has to settle. “I think I’m resigned just to take what I find if I can’t get what I want. Can you tell how long I’ve been here?  Can you smell the fear?”  Again, an unquestionable highlight. Thorn covers Lee Hazelwood’s “Come Home To Me,” very ominously.  Aided by Jeus Lekman’s deep background vocals, she sings the song like someone overtaken by loneliness, pleading her lover to return home. “Late In The Afternoon” compares an aging, perhaps fading relationship with the impending cold of Autumn.  Like each tree tries to hold onto its last leaf, Thorn’s protagonist is attempting to hold onto her relationship. “Don’t get bored anytime soon,” she warns her lover, “‘Cause it’s late in the afternoon.” The album closes with “Swimming,” It’s a seemingly happy ending to this melancholy collection.  Here, Thorn optimistically sings about the future, as if to say there is a way to make it through the storm.  The overall message is that, while things may not be good now, soon all the tension will pass and we will make it through to the other side, happy again.  It’s a really fitting, very satisfying ending to this album and its increasingly tense narrative.  There is a way out of sadness.  You just have to find the best route. “Love And Its Opposite” has no weak spots as a record.  It’s a focused effort from a pro who has been making music for more than twenty-five years.  While it is a very heavy, intense listen, it’s highly worth your attention.  To no big surprise, Thorn once again proves herself as a stunning songwriter and vocalist.  While this record maintains a very adult, almost sedate tone, it still manages to maintain just the right amount of bite.  It’s a record about sadness and survival. 

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