Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods

After a gap of twenty-five years, filled only by an entire musical career with Everything But The GirlTracey Thorn returned ten years ago this week with her second solo album Out of the Woods.

It opens with the sweet, nursery rhyme-like Here it Comes Again. I haven’t heard her 1982 debut A Distant Shore, but I think it’s probably safe to say that it sounded a lot less polished than this. It’s laid back though, and lacks some of the electronic sound of her work with Everything But The Girl, so the opening riff of A-Z will be very welcome if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. It’s a great synth song, very different but every bit as good as anything Thorn had done in the preceding couple of decades.

The lead single was It’s All True, a collaboration with Ewan Pearson and another great synthpop song. It’s a lot more playful than you might be used to, but it’s still extremely good. And the collaboration obviously worked out – Pearson produced the entirety of Thorn’s subsequent album Love and Its Opposite (2010).

Get Around to It is a cover of a song by Arthur Russell, which is a little harder to fathom than some of the other things on here, and then Hands Up to the Ceiling is a wonderfully ironic, largely acoustic piece about partying.

Thorn worked with a wide range of different collaborators on this album, and it shows, both for better and worse – it’s a deliciously varied collection, but it can be a little hit or miss at times too. Easy is one of the better pieces on here, full of atmosphere and melancholy, and Falling Off a Log may not be the catchiest ever, but it has an enormous bass part and some clever production too.

Nowhere Near passes you by fairly anonymously, but Grand Canyon, which rightly appeared as the album’s third single with a whole pile of remixes, is probably as close as this album gets to the likes of Missing – it has a catchy but sad melody, with an enormous house riff in the background, and frankly it’s fantastic.

The production on the more folk-flavoured tracks is fun too, and it’s probably fair to say this would be less of an album without them, but on the other hand By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept is definitely a lot less memorable than Raise the Roof, which follows, and also appeared as the second single.

Amazingly though, this is such a varied album that you probably didn’t notice this was the last track already. Digital editions added a beautifully broken down cover of Pet Shop Boys‘ King’s Cross, which later appeared as a single in its own right with a fantastic remix by Hot Chip, but you don’t get that on the CD unfortunately.

Apart from that notable omission, Out of the Woods is a great second album, and an extremely promising way for Thorn to revitalise her career.

Buy the digital version of Out of the Woods here, or buy the CD but then make sure you add King’s Cross on for yourself – it’s a key part of this album.

Preview – Depeche Mode

Well Depeche Mode are back, beards and all, with their fourteenth studio album Spirit. We’ll find out in just a few days whether it’s any good this time, or whether it just offers the odd standout track like their last couple of releases. But it’s exciting nonetheless, and if nothing else it’s worth it for the excellent new single Where’s the Revolution.

Chart for stowaways – 18 February 2017

Here are the singles for this week:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution?
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  3. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  4. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  5. Delerium with Phildel – Ritual
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 19)
  7. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  8. Weeknd Ft Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me
  10. The Human League – Sky

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 29 January 1983

After doing three in a little over a year, OMD‘s fourth and final John Peel session took place nearly two and a half years later, during which time they had turned out to be a little bit too popular to get much attention from the Godfather of British radio. But he did welcome them back for one final session.

It starts with a pretty faithful version of the then-current single Genetic Engineering, released a couple of weeks after the session was recorded and about ten days before it was broadcast. It gains a pleasant extra end section, making it more of a 12″ version.

The fourth album Dazzle Ships was just about to appear in the shops when this was broadcast, and the Peel Session was a good opportunity to showcase some of the material on this, one of their least overtly commercial releases. Closing track Of All the Things We’ve Made is the second track on here, pleasant and mournful, although the backing track, playing just one note for the entirety of the song, does start to wear a little towards the end.

The third track, both in this session and on the album, is ABC Auto-Industry, performed here with what might at least partially have been a live vocal. It’s short, experimental, and pleasant enough.

Not included on the Peel Sessions 1979-83 CD was the final track, another rendition of Bunker Soliders, which had previously been performed as part of the first session. It’s a shame this didn’t make it to that release actually – after an otherwise experimental session it makes a pleasant change of pace to hear one of their more uptempo pieces. It’s only slightly different here, otherwise retaining a lot of the raw unfiltered energy that it had three and a half years earlier.

We covered the previous sessions here, here and here. You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. The first three tracks from this session are available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here, and you’ll have to find the other one on the internets somewhere.

Apollo 440 – Electro Glide in Blue

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start: Apollo 440 are, or at least were, for an album or three, very very good indeed.  And 1997 saw them pretty much at their pinnacle.

Their second album Electro Glide in Blue opens with a sublime short instrumental Stealth Overture, before launching in earnest into the second single Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub. Largely built around a Van Halen sample with some lively drum and bass affectations, it’s both iconic and great, although I suspect if you weren’t there in 1997, it would be more than a little difficult to understand why.

Altamont Super-Highway Revisited is next, perhaps one of the weaker tracks on here, but it bounces along pleasantly enough until we get to title track Electro Glide in Blue, a dark eight-and-a-half minute odyssey full of self-doubt and angst.

From one epic to another, Vanishing Point is next, a gentle drum and bass piece with enormous vocal pads and even bigger bass. While most people were busy hanging around being sultry in soundalike indie bands, Apollo 440 were to be found creating seven or eight minute electronic opuses.

That is not to say that guitars don’t have their place here, as Tears of the Gods demonstrates, with a great vocal from Charles Bukowski, but the guitar work here is altogether more soulful than what most people were throwing around in the mid-1990s.

Final single Carrera Rapida is next, the theme from a computer game called Rapid Racer, and the single came with a great CD containing all the background music from the game, all built around the theme of this track. By itself, it’s lively, but probably not the best thing on here.

Then comes the lead single Krupa, an homage to a drummer called Gene Krupa, and so the focus of the piece is largely the drumming, with a couple of repeated synth lines over the top. It’s entirely unexpected, but very good nonetheless.

Following a quieter moment with White Man’s Throat, the finest moment on the album comes with the glorious Pain in Any Language, featuring Billy Mackenzie on vocals. It’s another long one, clocking in at nearly nine minutes in duration, but right from the start the slightly Asian sounding chimes and emotive vocals really make you feel something special.

That only leaves us to return to the beginning for an enormous pseudo-classical piece Stealth Mass in F#m, which with its choral vocals seems slightly out of place, unless you’re happy to accept that Apollo 440 were really just doing whatever they wanted here, a fact which is comfortably backed up by the bonus track on the end, the other single Raw Power, a hugely energetic piece that shakes you up rather after the gentler ending which preceded it.

All told, though, Electro Glide in Blue is a great album – if you’re missing the context of what it meant in the 1990s, you might find it helps to put some pictures of Tony Blair and the Spice Girls on the wall, and then you’ll definitely understand. Fantastic stuff.

You can still find Electro Glide in Blue at all major retailers.