Tracey Thorn: Tinsel and Lights – album review

Tracey Thorn – Tinsel and Lights (Strange Feeling)
DL / CD / LP
Available now

How’s your festive cheer coming on? Are you counting down the sleeps until Santa arrives or are you lacking in Christmas spirit? 

Tracey Thorn’s new album manages to capture the spirit of the season without turning into a schmaltzy selection of Christmas classics.

Christmas. Apparently some people adore it. Most people, I suspect, have a love/hate relationship with it. In truth, Christmas is a fantasy – how often have your holiday seasons been taken in front of a roaring fire, with snow feet deep outside, and smiling children and relatives you never argue with?

It’s also the time of year when every money grubbing X-Factor fuck looks to cash in on the fact that most punters are too pissed to care what music they buy. So what, in Santa’s name, is Tracey Thorn, erstwhile member of that wonderful band Everything But The Girl, doing releasing a Christmas album?

Thankfully, this is not a vanity project full of Christmas standards; indeed, a couple of the tracks don’t even mention Christmas.. In many ways, Tinsel and Lights, isn’t actually about Christmas, more about the darkness of winter and how we create a celebration, with tinsel and lights, in the bleak middle of it.

Tinsel and Lights is a metaphor for human hope in the face of that darkness and cold. Thorn selects her songs carefully, and self-pens two (‘Joy’, ‘Tinsel, and Lights’), to create an atmosphere over the whole album An atmosphere of yearning, longing, loneliness, but all set against the hope that makes us human. As she sings on ‘Joy’: “We must be alright if we can make up Christmas night.”

There’s a great version of Jack White’s ‘In the Cold, Cold Night’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’. The latter is sung pitch perfectly by Thorn with a backing track that sounds like a northern colliery band. The one song that seems to be a concession to the Christmas standard is ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. But even here, with Thorn’s longing voice, it fits perfectly the theme of hope in the darkness.

The album ends with Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Sister Winter’ that has chords as brittle as ice. The refrain is ‘My Heart Is returned to Sister Winter’, which resolves itself to the ‘I’ve Returned to wish you a happy Christmas’.

If you want a Christmas album without the schmaltz and the fantasy, then this has everything but the sanity claus. Recommended for the dark, winter nights.

All words by Mark Ray. You can read more from Mark on LTW here.

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