A Christmas album that has everything but the irony
Eschewing any knowing irony, Tracey Thorn actually likes Christmas and is happy to create the mood music
She has been described as the Godmother of indie pop/folk (“Have I? I’ve never actually heard myself called that”), but if anything Tracey Thorn is the kind of creative thinker you’d like in your corner if ever there was a time when you needed to hear a familiar, comforting if somewhat downcast voice telling you that things – although occasionally miserable – are going to be okay.
It helps that Thorn – formerly best known as a member of the long-term-frozen Everything But The Girl, a duo that she co-founded with her husband, Ben Watt, more than 30 years ago – has just released Tinsel and Lights, one of the best Christmas albums of recent years. She joins a list of essentially low-key commercial artists that have also done the maligned “Christmas Songs” genre proud. The likes of Sufjan Stevens, Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler, and Low have taken what is viewed by some as a seasonal fabrication and – without any musical signifiers whatsoever – turned it into a tasteful and heartfelt lesson in reality.
Was it this influx of what could be termed credible Christmas albums that prompted Thorn to pitch in her tuppence worth? Or was there always a Christmas album lurking inside waiting to pounce? Certainly, the idea of a new kind of Christmas record has been rediscovered in recent years, she says.
“I’ve especially liked the records by Low and Sufjan Stevens, but I would say that good Christmas music has always been there. If you’re someone who likes Christmas – as I do – then you tend to like all the trimmings: the trees, the lights, the songs. They all meld together to create a mood specific to the time of year, and that’s very appealing to me as a musician.”
Thorn has little time for comparisons between, say, her own selection of Christmas tunes (which include covers of Ron Sexsmith, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Low and White Stripes, two originals and one seasonal favourite), and Christmas albums from, for example, Rod Stewart.
She says she isn’t too keen, either, on trying to set herself up above other acts, neither wanting to define herself or be defined as “credible and then slagging off someone like Rod Stewart. I just think we’re trying to do different things. He is making an entirely traditional record, with all the traditional songs on it. I’m making a record that is a little bit Christmas, but also just a little bit winter/seasonal, so I’ve included a different selection of songs.”
It’s interesting, however, that, to all intents and purposes, one Christmas album is deemed credible, yet another is not. Is it an age thing or is it down to execution or song choice? “Again, this word ‘credible’, which, as I’ve said, I’m not that keen on.”