Out of the Woods Label: Astralwerks
The last eight years have been dark days indeed for the world of music. Napster completely changed the rules on how music was heard, and some of the richest bands in the world responded by declaring that fans of Napster should stop buying their records (talk about being careful what you wish for); record labels slapped the very people they need to keep them in business with crippling lawsuits. When the labels weren’t suing people, they were loading their CDs with software that would kill the computers of the few people still willing to buy their music the old fashioned way. The third installment of the onetime peace, love and music festival turned into the home for arson, rape, and six bucks a bottle for water. We saw the rise, and fall, of rap rock, and we are witnessing the slow decline of hip hop, though some would argue that that is rather a sign of sunny days to come.
Ask a fan of Everything but the Girl about the last eight years, though, and none of those things will matter a tenth as much as the fact that Tracey Thorn hasn’t sung a note in that span. That’s a staggering amount of time for someone who never went more than three years between albums (1996’s Walking Wounded and 1999’s Temperamental), and averaged a turnaround time of about 18 months between 1983 and 1996. But she had kids to raise, and the rest of the world could wait, for all she cared. Good for her, her heart is in the right place; but how would it affect her songwriting?
Oddly enough, the one thing that will surprise you is her singing. Out of the Woods, Thorn’s first solo album since 1982’s A Distant Shore, is a strange cross between EBTG albums Worldwide and Temperamental, and while there surely isn’t an EBTG fan alive that wants of mash-up of what is arguably their two weakest albums, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s actually better than both of them, but just barely.
The first three songs on Out of the Woods separate it from your typical EBTG album in that where their albums had a stylistic theme – Walking Wounded was drum ‘n bass, Temperamental was house, The Language of Life was American soul, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright was orchestral – Thorn’s album is a free-for-all. Ironically, this is not exactly a good thing; she finds a groove in the “Ring My Bell”-like “Get Around to It” (or is it “Hella Good”-like?), but you have to trudge through the sleepy lullaby “Here It Comes Again,” and “A-Z,” which Massive Attack would have relegated to B-side status, to get there. And speaking of “Here It Comes Again,” why on earth would Tracey Thorn, she with the knee-buckling smoky alto, spend any amount of time, much less an entire song, in the range of Sarah McLachlan, she of the wistful soprano? In fact, she explores falsetto land on “Falling Off a Log” as well, and once again evokes the Canadian songstress when she should be evoking, well, herself.
It’s great to see Thorn getting back in the game – and Lord knows, with Brit tarts like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen stirring the pot, she picked a good time to return – but Out of the Woods is not going to satiate anyone’s jones for a new Everything but the Girl album. You could argue that that is not the album’s responsibility, but the simple fact is that Thorn will forever be measured by her overall body of work, with or without her life partner Ben Watt. It’s her own fault, really; if she weren’t so damn good, then it wouldn’t be so obvious when she makes something so incredibly average.