Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite

The ex-Everything but the Girl singer releases her latest, most intimate solo album on her hubby's record label. Sounds romantic, right?

Tracey Thorn

Love and Its Opposite

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2010-05-18
UK Release Date: 2010-05-17

Years ago someone told me Tracey Thorn reminded them of Chet Baker. That may sound strange, but when you think about it, the comparison makes sense. Thorn and Baker both derive their power from subtlety. They have a languid, effortlessly cool vibe to them that sometimes comes across as detached, but more often feels deeply personal.

To her vast credit, Thorn has never lost sight of this strength. She’s never played the sex kitten, the diva, or the dance club chanteuse. Therefore, she’s aged gracefully. People label Everything but the Girl, Thorn’s 15-year partnership with Ben Watt, as “electronic”, but that term describes only a portion of their career. Their most commercially successful music was electronic-leaning, but before that they explored jazz, indie-pop a’la the Smiths, Phil Spector-informed orchestral pop, and even radio-baiting, schmaltzy easy listening music. All was informed, though, by a singer-songwriter’s attention to craft, detail, and lyrics. And Thorn’s charismatically demure voice was the constant.

On Love and Its Opposite, Thorn’s second solo album following a eight-year hiatus, that voice is as appealing as ever. And, maybe for the first time, it’s the sole focus. 2007’s Out of the Woods was again informed by electronica, but this time there’s really no stylistic subtext. Producer Ewan Pearson, ironically best known for his work in the electronic realm, gives Thorn a concise backdrop made mostly of guitars, keyboards, and drums. The music is heavily atmospheric but never obtrusive. Thorn is front-and-center in the mix and the implication is very clear. Pay attention to the lyrics.

Write what you know, the experts say, and Thorn has done so here. Consequently, the ten songs on Love and Its Opposite are about the life of a middle-aged woman with kids, a husband, and keen observational skills. This is her most emotionally naked record, sometimes uncomfortably so. The middle-aged landscape, Thorn seems to be saying, is just as difficult, perplexing, and heartbreaking as the young adult one, only without the option of romanticizing the future. Love, even when attained, is tenuous and prone to second-guessing. On “Oh, The Divorces!”, the tear-jerker piano ballad of an opener, Thorn laments the broken marriages that have fallen around her. Then she turns the lens on herself. “And each time I hear who’s to part / I examine my heart…/ Wonder if it’s still in safe hands”. This very personal revelation also hits on a common truth few married folks would put right out in the open.

The very next song, “Long White Dress”, starts out like a “Walk On the Wild Side” character study: “Matthew was a wised-up kid…”. But then you realize the song is Thorn’s confession of her fear of marriage. “Nothing ever scared me like a wedding did”, she says, making clear the connection between the song’s title and the “Long Black Veil” of the mourning woman in the old murder ballad. Thorn recently did marry Watt, after a decades-old courtship during which the two had several children. The song helps explain the long wait, but it’s hardly “Love & Marriage” is it? A lot of Thorn’s past music has been touched by the warmth of nostalgia, but there’s none of that here to offer consolation. “A second or a year / Once gone is gone”, she says on “Kentish Town”. Pretty bleak.

Bleaker still, though, and more of a departure than Thorn has yet recorded, is “Come On Home To Me”, a Lee Hazelwood cover. Specifically, the song is from the eccentric, deep-throated crooner’s notoriously tragic cult classic, Requiem for an Almost Lady. It’s a stark, minor-key, almost harrowing composition whose chorus lets in just a fraction of light. Thorn plays it straight, too, with Swedish singer/songwriter Jens Lekman providing Hazelwood-like backing vocals. With little more than a reverberating celesta for accompaniment, this is the darkest, most intentionally moody track Thorn has ever recorded. You could easily mistake it for something off a Dead Can Dance or This Mortal Coil album.

For Love And Its Opposite’s least weighty, most carefree moment, you have to look to a song about menopause. Actually, “Hormones” is more about a mother’s attempt to come to terms with a teenage daughter, or at least make peace with the fact she can’t. With a relatively snappy, soulful backing and off-the-cuff feel, it’s just as touching as any of the more labored ballads, maybe more so. You wish there were more like it here. Taken individually, each of Love and Its Opposite’s songs is impressive and affecting. Strung together as an album, though, their sulky nature becomes oppressive. You’ve listened to the lyrics, and now you’re left feeling awkward and bummed out. Not all downcast albums have to be downers. This one comes a bit closer than you might like.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.