Merge, 2010

For the first few years of my musical education, I associated Ms. Thorn with her involvement in Everything But the Girl. Specifically, I remember the album Walking Wounded, which for a very long two summers, was the music my friends would woozily request at 3am as I drove down the massive 5 freeway from whatever moderately illicit adventures we were having in the urban morass of LA. We’d pass concrete barriers, lacing our way back to our youths of planned communities, trying to clutch on to memories of nights that, years later, we’d try to forget.

And so, now, as an adult having the very adult fight between returning to a type of suburbia and staying in the comfortable urban environment into which I’m finally settled, I find extraordinary solace in albums like Tracey Thorn’s most recent, Love and its Opposite (released this week in the UK & US). The standout track “Hormones” is a she-bop expression of the junction between youth and grown-updom.

Just as she famously left the music scene for several years to pay attention to having a family life, Thorn returned on the other side in 2007 with Out of the Woods, her first solo album since 1982’s A Distant Shore.  Love and its Opposite retains much of that classic electro-disco feel only on a few tracks (“Swimming”, “Kentish Town”, “Why Does the Wind”). Elsewhere, she’s created an intimate portrayal of difficult interpersonal relationships, self-identity, with haunting, sparse instrumental.

It thankfully doesn’t pretend to be anything bigger than it is — yet another great driving record. Instead  of late night shenanigans, though, it feels meant for endless work, take away, and errands. As she says on her very busy Twitter, “I am now going to rub some torn clothes in the mud to create a zombie costume for a 9 year old. This is what Saturdays were made for.” Oh, how we’ve changed, Tracey.

The lovely “Singles Bar” has a mellow wantonness with strong guitar solo, although can be uncomfortably close to listen to, whatever your current romantic entanglement. “Long White Dress” is the protagonist’s admirable battle with convention.  On the other end of the relationship spectrum, “Oh, the Divorces” manages not to wallow in its lyrics. Its jaunty waltz conjures a mild circus silliness that continues her mocking Who’s next/ Who’s next?.

“C’me on Home to Me” (a cover of Lee Hazlewood) tangles Thorn’s voice with Jens Lekman’s. Previously, they had collaborated for a Magnetic Fields cover (“Yeah! Oh Yeah!”) on the 20th anniversary Merge Records album, SCORE! (and, for full disclosure, the label releasing Love and its Opposite stateside). The entanglement of their two voices is really refreshing – languid but direct; velvet, even.  “You Are a Lover” by the Unbending Trees is a slight misstep as it lacks the gruff Waits-like voice of Kristof Hajos. Thorn’s voice here is too velvety and doesn’t totter on the edge of tears as Hajos’ did on the original.

Love and its Opposite does not muck around – its frankness in the identity struggles we (either willingly or not) endure is to be admired. It, like adulthood, is not all fun and games, but it’s a pleasure regardless.