Tracey Thorn has always been a part of my life, although I was a little late to the party. As a teenager I fell in love with Everything But The Girl’s huge club anthem ‘Missing’ and her Massive Attack collaboration ‘Protection’. Throughout the next few months I went to buying up their back catalogue, and discovered classics such as ‘Apron Strings’ and ‘Each & Every One’. I fell in love with her voice. The word ‘haunting’ is often scattered around too casually, but with Ms. Thorn it is difficult to write a review of her retrospect without using it. Her voice is modest, understated, and absolutely packed with raw emotion. There is no other singer you could mistake her for. She is a truly unique artist, and that is probably the reason her career has lasted all these years.
With her husband and band-mate Ben Watt, Everything But The Girl had a long and credible career. There have been several collections released of their work together, but this new collection is the first to gather together her solo material. It features songs from her four solo albums, as well as collaborations she has recorded with other artists outside of her former band. It isn’t so much a greatest hits album, as very few of these were actually what would fall under the dictionary definition of a hit, as in they didn’t make the top forty. In fact only ‘Protection bothered the charts. But that doesn’t stop this being a collection of absolute classics. It’s easy to forget exactly how many amazing tracks she has had. If you’re not already a fan, then it is unlikely you will be familiar with many of the songs, but long standing fans like myself will absolutely relish in this collection.
So where to start? With so many songs that need to be on this collection, it was never going to be easy to narrow them down to fit on to just two discs. The lady herself recently said on social media that if you’re favourite isn’t included, then please don’t tell her about it. It’s kind of understandable really. All of her fans would have their own perfect line-up, and inevitably some are bound to be missing. So I probably shouldn’t mention the absence of her Joni Mitchell cover ‘River’ or ‘A-Z’ from ‘Out Of The Woods’. Instead, say how happy I was to see the inclusion of ‘By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down And Wept’ and her cover of Kate Bush’ ‘Under The Ivy’. As a vocalist she interprets other people’s songs with just as much beauty as she does when she creates her own. Once again, it’s the tone of her voice that can make anything she does sound golden. She starts the collection by putting her best foot forward first. ‘Oh! The Divorces’ was the opening track from her 2010 album ‘Love And Its Opposites’, and it starts off this collection too. It is one of several tracks taken from that album. ‘Singles Bar’ from the same album is one of this collection”s hidden gems. Lyrically it is sharp, engrossing and incredibly sad; the story of a woman going to a singles bar for the first time after a divorce full of hope, but ending up disillusioned and lonely. It is this kind of song she does best. Thorn is a great story teller.
There are only a couple of tracks taken from her 2012 Christmas album ‘Tinsel & Lights’. I’m glad to see ‘Joy’ included, and it joins ‘Sister Winter’. It only seems right that there shouldn’t be too many tracks from her festive album. But most of the songs aren’t full-blown festive bangers, and can be played at pretty much any time of the year. I know I have listened to it at various different points at the year though. ‘Joy’ however is a, well, joy. It’s a beautiful piano-lead almost anti-Christmas track that really highlights the importance of enjoying the moment, and not taking the things in your life for granted.
Thorn has always sat comfortably between her acoustic routes, and the electronic sounds she discovered on her later EBTG material. Toward the end of the collection are several remixes from her ‘Extended Plays’ album. The Clock Opera mix of ‘You Are A lover’ is epic and uplifting, whilst Hop Chip’s mix of ‘King’s Cross’ is a huge electronic number, filled with huge beats and techno bleeps.
The album is a great representation of a solo career spanning over thirty years, from her debut ‘A Distant Shore’ from ’82, to ‘Follow Me Down’ from her most recent soundtrack mini-album ‘Songs From The Falling’. There are no new tracks, which is a shame, but when faced with such an amazing collection of songs that seems like nit-picking. Tracey Thorn is one of the great female vocalists of the generation, and this is a long overdue collection of her career highlights; of which there are many.