Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

Finally, Out of the Woods, posted March 2, 2007 at 02:26 AM

Thorn-cover.gifI got an advance copy of the new Tracey Thorn album. She thought, oh, after eight years perhaps it was time for another album.

Michael Poremba and I, sometime around 1997 when Everything But The Girl released Walking Wounded, said to each other, "Can there be more? Can these people get any greater?" They did. EBTG's 1999 release Temperamental was actually their best since 1988's Idlewild, though it couldn't have been more different. It was house music, a defiant statement of presence in a world that had forgotten their neo-folk pop creations. But Idlewild and Temperamental are also actually rather similar: amazing song structures, purposefully perfect pacing, and a confessional attitude that trumps the listener's preferences for song genre.

Idlewild defines my life in a deeply personal way. Efforts to escape a small town, the desire for poetry, the desire for children combined with the fear actually having them, the sweetness of a close friend, the importance of finding a soul mate, the deep relationship with one's parents. Temperamental not only matches those boyhood definitions, it exactly updates them with eleven years of wisdom. Suddenly their lyrics speak of being too prideful to admit to depressions, to hopefulness they'd never have allowed themselves as youngsters, to a more mature attitude of energetic force and stamina.

And then silence. EBTG went dark. Shortly before all this Ben Watt suffered a near-death experience with illness. And late in the story Thorn became mother to their three children (I guess they overcame the fear voiced in Idlewild's "The Night I Heard Caruso Sing"). Watt became a dance-music DJ, he opened a club, he started a dance label, and he's still cranking it out in ways that have moved me beyond my own expectations. Thorn has done the guest vocal here and there--Massive Attack, Tiefschwarz--but mostly all we've heard from her since 1999 is silence.

Eight years later here she comes again with a "solo" album, by which she means:

After years of making records with Ben, it just seemed time to take a break, and do something fresh... I've got together with a few different producers/collaborators, and we've come up with a record that (I hope) is a true reflection of who I am right now and what I love right now.
Out of The Woods finds our heroine in a rather 80s mood, which suits me just fine.

"Here It Comes Again" opens the album with a slow, emotionally raw yet delicate 60s-style tune sung in falsetto. She's no coquette, so with track 2 she gets right down to business--"A - Z" (that's pronounced Ay to Zed) is an 80s pop slow-burn straight from Planet Pet Shop Boys. She revisits "small-town hell" and the desire to get out wrapped in heavy synths and deep reverb. "It's All True" is the first single. It's dance, more house than pop, though layered with percussion. I loved it, until I heard the "Escort" remix of it on her MySpace page--a remix that made it more pop than house and now layered with guitar. Now that I truly love.

Now comes the mindblow. "Get Around To It" is a cover of Arthur Russell, an artist I never heard of before his song's appearance here. It seems he was a 80s-era purveyor of indie-disco (I know!!, I never imagined such a thing before either!). His alternadance stylings can be found both on iTunes and, and I do recommend him. This song is layered with lots of percussion, sliding synths, and starting half-way through the most poppin' spurtin' horns this side of James Brown. It's delicious and euphoric, with my only complaint being that at 6 full minutes it's too short by half.

And when I say she's no coquette, I mean it--"Hands Up To The Ceiling" turns the dial to Singer-Songwriter, complete with acoustic guitar, sad piano, and sincere lyrical yearning. From here, the rest of the album flows in and out of electronic and acoustic territory, passion and indifference, and long and short variations on a personal vision that is not fundamentally different from the one she laid out 25 years ago on her all-acoustic first solo album, A Distant Shore:

"Easy" lays lyrical warmth on top of emotionally distant, repetitive drum and piano loops.
"Falling Off A Log" with its sing-song melody, its reflective mood, and its harmonies would not sound out of place on Madonna's Erotica album (seriously, and it's great).
I think "Nowhere Near" sounds more like EBTG than anything else on the album, with seemingly confessional lyrics, round-toned trumpets, and point-A-to-point-B song structure.
"Grand Canyon" takes its time getting going, and at 1:20 when it breaks out into 80s dance music galore it seems almost too much like we've been down this road before. Then it reveals its soul at the 3-minute mark, turns back on itself, and shows itself to be a pop spiritual--"You've come home. Look at this hole inside your heart no one can ever fill. It's like the Grand Canyon."
"By Picadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept" is actually what I most expected of this album--folksong dressed up in electronics--and maybe that's why I find this track the least satisfying of all of them.
"Raise the Roof" ends the set as emotionally as "Here It Comes Again" began it. She's complicated--I can't imagine what her husband thinks of this direct (but loving) confrontation (both with him and with herself). Or what her kids will think of this later when they listen to her sing about the "years I wasted sitting on my own, think what I could have tasted if I'd only known." Then regretting: "Why did I wait? Why did I wait?" To be fair, this song is about living life filled with--and projecting--love. But her conflicts are wondrously on her sleeve as she plaintively pleads--again mirroring the album's opening falsetto--"Don't tell me it's too late. Don't tell me it's too late."

I wish I could share the music with you as well as these thoughts. You can hear some of it on her MySpace page, and you can buy it March 20 in the USA.

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