Back-to-basics production allows Thorn’s inimitable vocals to shine.
Wendy Roby 2010-05-11
The quote accompanying Love and Its Opposite is mildly terrifying. “When I was young, I imagined middle age to be a kind of comfort zone,” says Thorn, “but in fact, having got here, I feel it's more of a war zone. The songs are where I dump all that s*** so that I can get on with my life without jumping off a bridge.” And though this hardly qualifies as an inducement to listen, there’s something delightfully honest about it. It’s almost anti-press.
Such painfully spare sentiment is echoed in both the lyrics and the pared-down arrangements on Thorn’s latest, on which she’s worked with musicians as disparate as Hot Chip’s Al Doyle, Swedish alt-pop’s Jens Lekman and Nashville singer-songwriter Cortney Tidwell. But the Ewan Pearson-produced, back-to-basics approach does mean those honest lyrics stand out more, and seem even starker. On Singles Bar she asks, “Can you guess my age in this light?” over a simple, swaying twang, before revealing how she “laid on her back for a Hollywood wax”. It might be that it’s simply too honest for some.
But that’s not to say Love and Its Opposite is all over-share. Lee Hazelwood cover Come on Home to Me has swirling atmospherics; there’s a sort of triumphant sweetness to Long White Dress’s acoustic melancholy; 60s handclaps inform the giddier Hormones; and there’s even some bare electro-pop in the pulsing Why Does the Wind. Swimming proves to be the highlight, though, with its provocation to “go on” over a building accompaniment that swirls like the water Thorn’s determined to wade through.
And through it all, there’s That Voice – nobody else sounds like Thorn. When you’re blessed with an instrument this pure, and this suited to melancholy, it’s easy to see how the ex-Marine Girl might be headed for Pop Treasure status. Her enviable clarity of tone and the disarming beauty of her vocals lend Love and Its Opposite a dreamy, if uncomfortable, sort of truth. But blithe, sunny romantics are advised to keep a stiff drink (and a hanky) within very easy reach.