Tracey Thorn's fifth solo album is fuelled by frank, female insights – review  

Feminist bangers: On her fifth solo album, Tracey Thorn’s subjects range from #MeToo to motherhood 
Feminist bangers: On her fifth solo album, Tracey Thorn’s subjects range from #MeToo to motherhood 

“I fight like a girl,” sings Tracey Thorn on a gorgeous, funny, moving album of feminist solidarity. This phrase, usually wielded as an insult, is transformed into a declaration of defiance on the mesmeric nine-minute disco dub of Sister.

Confronting male aggression – “You trample me like dirt/ But I’m used to things that hurt” – the 55-year-old British singer-songwriter offers a mantra of universal womanhood: “I am my mother, I am my sister.” American experimental all-female group Warpaint lend the track a dark, hypnotic groove, while British neo-soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae adds her wailing, high vocals to Thorn’s languid delivery. The result is an inspirational club anthem that could hardly be more timely, deliciously encapsulating both the anger and optimism of the #MeToo movement.

Tracey Thorn

Thorn has described her fifth solo album, Record, as “nine feminist bangers” although it’s less polemical than that might imply. Thorn has always been a distinctive talent. She scored classic Eighties and Nineties chart hits with husband Ben Watt in Everything But The Girl, yet the band were never a mainstream proposition.

This seemed to suit Thorn just fine: she was never a musician to play the game, particularly the ones expected of a female star. The tyranny of sexism and misogyny is a subject that she addresses on the tartly lyrical Air. “They liked the girlie girls/ And looked straight through me/ Like plate glass, like fresh air/ Like I wasn’t even there,” she sings.

Thorn’s weapons of choice have always been her cool but emotional voice and elegant, intelligent songcraft. The duo retired Everything But The Girl in 2000, to focus on raising their children and this is only Thorn’s third album of original material since. Left to her own devices, she has shifted towards intimate acoustic arrangements, a stately format quite well suited to her undemonstrative, folky voice.

Yet Record’s producer Ewan Pearson pushes her back, fruitfully, into an electronic setting. This creates quite a retro, Eighties sound, linear and stratified, with pulsing bass synths and tidy drum machine patterns. But it lends Thorn’s wry, sharp lyrics a welcome sparkle. The squelchy Dancefloor is a glorious celebration of a middle-aged mum’s right to party. “Where I like to be/ Is on the dancefloor with some drinks inside of me,” she sings with a giddiness that will make you want to join her.

Record is fuelled by frank, female insights. Babies made me laugh out loud with its contrast between maternal desire and the fretful realities of parenthood (“Lay your pretty head down/ Get the f--- to bed now”). Yet when Thorn sings “Oh, I love my babies,” you can hear the utter relish in her voice. It is hard to imagine any male artist tackling  the subject with quite the same unbridled delight. 

Tracey Thorn: Record is out on March 2