Release Date: Oct 30, 2012
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
With Tinsel And Lights, Tracey Thorn sidesteps the mindlessly cheerful mood that sets in at Christmastime. The collection of cautiously joyful yuletide tunes bears all the hallmarks of the former Everything But the Girl singer/songwriter's restraint, realism and sobering melancholy. Composed mostly of covers of songs by Dolly Parton, the White Stripes, Joni Mitchell and Ron Sexsmith, among others, chosen for their secular wintry evocations, the album embraces the holiday anxiety often overlooked in the modern Christmas canon while nodding to the sentimental with an ace rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
There is something about the melancholy quality in Tracey Thorn's voice that would seem to make the idea of a Christmas album by her improbable. But Tinsel and Lights is no ordinary Christmas album. It is as singular in its choice of material as Thorn's voice is. Produced by Ewan Pearson (who helmed 2010's Love and Its Opposite), there is only one standard, in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The rest is compiled from material written by more contemporary composers: Randy Newman, Carol Hall, Joni Mitchell, Scritti Politti's Green Gartside, Stephin Merritt, Ron Sexsmith, Low, Jack White, and Sufjan Stevens.
The Christmas album, once among pop's least enticing concepts, has undergone a rebirth in recent years, with Glasvegas, Low and Sufjan Stevens all contributing festive LPs. Tracey Thorn's fourth solo set, though, is the best of the bunch, its sparse songs home to a seasonal standard, choice covers of Dolly Parton, White Stripes and Randy Newman songs and, in Joy and the title track, two fabulous self-penned tunes. Not every song is strictly Christmassy, but Thorn's duet with Green Gartside, Taking Down the Tree, captures the emotions particular to the season and stands comparison with anything she's done.
Tracey Thorn's fourth solo album arrives a few months before her autobiography, the splendidly titled Bedsit Disco Queen. The book acts not just as Thorn's memoir, but as a eulogy for an almost forgotten era of pop. You might call it the unrevived 80s: an earnest, cardigan-clad and Doc Marten-shod world of benefit gigs and ill-tempered interviews about ideology, of "musical delegates" heading off to Russia to perform at the World Federation of Democratic Youth's Festival of Youth and Students ("In between the bands, two men sat on the stage and had a debate about 'music and the state'").
Tracey ThornTinsel and Lights[Merge; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; December 5, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetOne of the hardest qualities to bring to Christmas music is seriousness. During a holiday that is associated with smiling faces, happy memories, and all things “JOY!,” it’s hard to not only capture the sombre reality of life outside of all this merriment, but also to create something people want to bother listening to come the festive season. The only reason Band Aid 20 made such an impression on the charts is because if you spoke out against it at the time you were considered a soulless prick (along with the fact it was plastered across almost every media outlet).
Tracey Thorn is too rarely acknowledged for her role as a maternal figure to contemporary indie pop, and a holiday album is a fine occasion to acknowledge her influence. Three decades ago, as a member of Marine Girls and on her debut solo album, Thorn nailed a strain of wispy, ramshackle, beach-themed guitar-pop that was halfway between Young Marble Giants and the Raincoats, predicting the likes of Cub, the Softies, and even Best Coast. With her husband Ben Watt in Everything But the Girl (and as a guest vocalist on Massive Attack's still-stunning "Protection"), she applied that minimalism to a jazzier, more sophisticated, and more electronics-friendly approach, coming up alongside Sade in a lineage that has most recently given us the xx, Jessie Ware, and Sky Ferreira (on "Everything Is Embarrassing", at least).
Tinsel and Lights, the first Christmas album by English alt-pop singer Tracey Thorn, is an album about falling back in love with Christmas as an adult. Which assumes, of course, that at some point she and her listeners have fallen out of love with Christmas. Comprised of 10 well-chosen covers and two Thorn originals, Tinsel is a good holiday album for smart, gentle souls who like fires, sweaters, and evocative songwriting, and who avoid the mall on Black Friday.
Tracey Thorn's resume makes for an impressive read: starting with the early post punk of Stern Bops, moving onto the Marine Girls, then most notably Everything But The Girl's Eighties acoustic outings that developed into a Nineties drum & bass/trip hop-led sound, followed by more house tinged folktronica stylings during the Noughties. And there's the small matter of her evocatively memorable performances on one of the most critically acclaimed British albums of all time - Massive Attack's Protection. Let's just say that in her low key way she is one of the pinnacles of the British singer songwriting community, her trademark sultry docu-real vocals, crafted way before reality TV even existed and realism became a fashion statement.
Fuck, is it that time of year already? Not quite, but apparently we’re close enough for Thorn – she of the dolorous voice behind Everything But The Girl – to release this patchily lovely and forlorn-sounding collection of Christmas covers. As you might expect, her seasonal favourites are not the usual Wham! and Slade; we’re at the Ron Sexsmith and Stephen Merritt end of the scale here. But while the low-key arrangements and melancholic song choices may make ‘Tinsel And Lights’ an EastEnders special of a Christmas album, if you’re planning on a microwaved turkey dinner for one this year, there’s probably no better soundtrack.Barry Nicolson .
A Christmas album seems quite unlikely for someone whose past suggests she’s not one to oil the wheels of capitalism. Nonetheless, Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights is just that, and you could do worse than add it to this year’s Santa list. Thorn has lined up some fascinating choices for her Christmas collection, ranging from Dolly Parton’s reflective “Hard Candy Christmas” to Sufjan Stevens’ delicate “Sister Winter”.
Christmas songs served sugar free by the voice of Everything but the Girl. Wyndham Wallace 2012 December’s normally dominated by chart artists seeking to grab a slice of Christmas pie, reflecting the corporatisation of the festive season. But now indie artists are fighting back. Last year Zooey Deschanel and M.
The Everything But the Girl gal follows up her superb 2010 solo album, “Love and Its Opposite,” with this gently lovely seasonal release. Anyone familiar with the blue side of the generally festive holiday season will find a kindred spirit here, as Thorn applies her achingly gauzy voice to 10 covers — some offbeat, some traditional — and pens two new wintry gems. “Joy” expertly expresses the curious blend of hope and melancholy that comes with appraising one year and looking ahead to the next.