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Tracey Thorn - Love and its Opposite

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Artist: Tracey Thorn

Album: Love and its Opposite

Label: Merge

Review date: May. 27, 2010

Love and its Opposite starts with the simplest piano – two chords seesawing quietly, almost like a child naively stumbling through its first run-through at “Chopsticks.” Given the relative brashness of some of the records Tracey Thorn has been involved with in the last 15 years (I’m thinking particularly of the euphoric house that opens Temperamental, the final album by her duo with partner Ben Watt, Everything But The Girl), “Oh, The Divorces” signals a level-headed humility and direct address that’s endearing, if not slightly disarming. Where is she going this time?

The last time we caught up with Thorn, on Out of the Woods, she was making folksy electronic music that hymned broken hearts, lost out there on the dance floor. That album was produced by English techno auteur Ewan Pearson, and so it is with Love and its Opposite. But the melancholic, string-swept proto-disco of “Why Does The Wind?” aside, Thorn’s new effort is focused on a stripped-back group sound – guitar, bass and drums in an almost auraless space – that reveals more strings to Pearson’s production bow, too. For anyone expecting the astral tidings of his previous pop remixes, like the massive re-dux on Cortney Tidwell’s “Don’t Let the Stars Keep Us Tangled Up,” Love and its Opposite may surprise.

Tidwell turns up on the hopeful closing song, “Swimming,” though the tenor of most of the album is far more quizzical, analytical, distressed. This is an album largely about the things people do in the name of relationships – sure, the press puff says this, but Love and its Opposite is almost obsessive in its address of what we do to each other while caught in the holding pattern of coupledom. In Thorn’s world, people hurt, but quietly; new relationships suffer due to lessons unlearned from past failures, and loneliness is maybe the one true constant. (And, as an aside, I never thought I’d hear Tracey Thorn using mobile phone argot like "answered your text" in song. Such is the change in the lyrical preoccupations of the Twitter-ized pop star.)

I listened to Love and its Opposite in the company of a friend recently, who observed midway through that it was ‘one of those mature records.’ I guess that means it’s a record only someone of a certain history and world-weariness would make, but in Everything But The Girl, Thorn spent many years figuring out how to write songs that absented the tropes of teenage lust and raging hormones from pop and house’s frameworks, rather addressing things that were not so much ‘more complex,’ as simply ‘more aware.’ This means that on some occasions, Love and its Opposite slips into a kind of quotidian tedium, though that’s oddly suitable for songs about the hard realities of loving, and the near-drollness of Thorn’s delivery renders most everything with a slightly austere character. It’s unembellished, which kind of makes this Thorn’s folk album in a weird way – at least insofar as the best folk singers sang with little to no adornment, and Thorn sometimes comes close to that purity of delivery.

But I like this relatively blunt, unadorned Tracey Thorn – not that she was ever forced or florid in her expression, but Love and its Opposite offers her most complete disarmament yet. It’s a quietly affecting album, one which can seem unassertive at first blush, but which repays the kind of constant attention I half-suspect a lot of listeners won’t give it. Which means its hard-won lessons risk going largely unnoticed. But here, Thorn seduces you stealthily. And at just under 40 minutes, it’s the perfect length – so what’s not to love?

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of Tracey Thorn

Out of the Woods

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