Tracey Thorn is best known as the voice of Everything But the Girl, a band that started out creating heart-breaking folk-pop but went on to reinvent itself as an international electronica superstar. Thorn’s musical and life partner, Ben Watt, has been operating his Buzzin’ Fly label and traveling the world as a house deejay, but being a mother has kept Thorn mostly off the radar; Out of the Woods is her first recorded material in more than half a decade and her first solo album in more than two decades. The album is a pastiche of Thorn’s expansive career, encompassing ’80s new wave, psychedelic folk, and elegant electronica. Although some moments on Out of the Woods may sound too much like the international (and timeless) hit “Missing,” Thorn’s melancholy voice is as beautiful as ever.
Everything But the Girl’s music was marked by its diversity, and the moments that stand out on Out of the Woods are so eclectic that they seem to come out of different eras of her former band’s evolution. The stark balladry of “Hands up to the Ceiling” is a huge contrast to the futuristic trip-hop of “Easy,” yet both are cemented by Thorn’s soaring vocals. Her singular voice expresses vulnerability, sadness and strength simultaneously, allowing her to easily sell dance-oriented tracks and down-tempo explorations. The album works best when straddling folk and electronica, such as on the gossamer-laced “A-Z” or the funk-lite of “Falling off a Log,” but it falters on Blondie-esque cuts like “Get Around to It.” “Grand Canyon” sounds too much like late-’90s Everything But the Girl, but who can fault Thorn for trying to recapture the magic. It’s the album closer “Raise the Roof” that leaves the biggest impact, whipping a million ’80s references into a shiny percussion-laden masterpiece.
After several years in the dark, Thorn reemerges more or less as we remember her, embracing all her incarnations for better or worse. Out of the Woods succeeds mostly due to her unmistakable presence. And with a talent as timeless as hers, we couldn’t ask for anything more.