RECORD / TRACEY THORN
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Sharp, fat-free adult club-pop for life-experienced pop-clubbed adults
Although Tracey Thorn has been popping up here there and everywhere since the early 80’s, this feels – oddly – like a very on-the-money 2018 record. In a digital era where we dip in and out of albums, curate our own listening experiences and multi-task our media habits in a constantly impatient cycle of distraction, this album seems to identify and respond to our modern cultural habits. For a start, it gets down to business quickly and zips along in a fat-free 9 tracks and 35 minutes. Sung by a 56 year old mother, it’s as if she’s created a start-to-finish experience perfect for executing the school run, or popping out for a 5k jog. Its sharp, no-mess brevity is reflected in its unfussy one word titles. It’s as if she’s saying, “I’ve been doing this for 30 –odd years, I don’t have time to piss about.” It’s intelligent, but not over thought. To the point, without sacrificing depth. A perfect album for the digital age.
It’s also a very honest and occasionally very funny record that can only have been written by someone with a fair chunk of life experience behind them. There’s a refreshing seem of guilt-free grown up musings about how adult life forces you into contradictory positions, sometimes at complete odds with each other. On “Babies” she voices what many mothers might feel, shifting from the adolescent fear of “Anxious waiting, diary watching. Just because a boy touched me there” to the gleeful admission that “I didn't want my babies until I wanted babies. And when I wanted babies, nothing else would do but babies. Babies babies. " But later, she’s honest – and knackered enough - to plead to her child “Get the fuck to bed now.”
However, what hangs over the record more than anything is a MeToo impatience with the world, of giving no fucks, taking no prisoners, and getting on with things. The first half of the record is almost like a distilled precis of her life in pop. The excellent opening “Queen” deals with sliding doors and escaping the life choices you’ve made, with a few doubts creeping in, describing someone propping up the backstage bar and asking, “is that me?” The following track “Air” cements her defiance however, describing her awkward out-of step adolescent persona with fierceness but with little apology (“2-Tone, all wrong, deep voice, headstrong”). She bemoans that the boys liked the “girly girly girly girls” but without any bitterness, admitting that she doesn’t care.
“Guitar” takes us by the hand to describe her indoctrination into the world of pop, and “Smoke” is a touching ode to a London which she loves but wearily admits has “gone wrong”. But where the album takes a feminist left leaning is on “Sister”. Her admission that she “fights like a girl” is a call to arms not a sign of weakness, but the work still to be done is outlined when she asks “What year is it? Same old shit.” It’s a form of feminist strength but shot through with a realistic eye of someone who no doubt has seen it all in an industry especially guilty of all forms of habitual discrimination.
Musically, there’s a clean, sophisto-pop sheen that makes her sound like an elder sister to Stuart Price-era Pet Shop Boys. There’s parallels to their album “Electric” in making music for clubbers who don’t want to stop clubbing. It all comes together on the brilliant “Dancefloor” where (as with the Pet Shop Boy’s “Vocal”) she describes an amazing night out, going on to tick off the songs she wants to hear (“Play me Good Times. Shame. Golden Years, Let the Music Play.”). It’s enhanced by Daft-Punky robotics, keyboard runs and a brilliant squelch of a bass line. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be” Tracey says at the end, a neat full circle from where we started. Because whatever challenges the modern world throws at her, the dancefloor can always make things seem a whole lot better.