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A box of delights
on 29 October 2012
Arriving just in time, as the clocks go back and the temperature falls, is Tracey Thorn's Christmas album.
The clear highlight is `Joy'. Written by Tracey, it is a beautifully poetic and nuanced ballad about how as adults we see Christmas in a new light - as something fragile, a special time with family and friends that brings back memories of Christmas' past and raises fears for what future years may bring. "You loved it as a kid and now you need it more than you ever did" is just one line of many the strikes a chord. The piano backing slowly expands to include percussion, backing vocals and (for the first of many occasions on the album) a kind of warm 'glow'.
Tracey's only other self-penned song on this album is the title track `Tinsel and Lights', which also reflects on how Christmas changes in meaning as we get older. The lyrics are about looking back on a previous Christmas, half with happiness and half with the bittersweet realisation that it may not have been so perfect after all.
`Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', the only traditional Christmas song on the album, is wonderfully realised. Played straight, with lush orchestral arrangement, it showcases Tracey's unique vocals. Lyrically, it's very much in keeping with the more modern songs selected for this album. By the time she gets to the "..until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" line, it's difficult not to shed a tear or two.
The version here of Randy Newman's `Snow' is one of the best things Tracey's done - simple, desolate and achingly sad.
It is be no means an electronic album but `Taking Down The Tree' - a cover of a song by Low and now a duet with Green Gartside - successfully introduces subtle electronica elements and beats. Green's voice sounds very much as it did during his Scritti Politti days: beguiling, pure and yet now somehow like welcoming back an old friend. There's also something a little late-ABBA in the production on this track. 'Sister Winter' and 'Snow in Sun' are also have a light sprinkling of electronic elements.
There's not one bad track here. `Hard Candy Christmas' and `Maybe This Christmas', in particular, utilise Tracey's ability to tell a story to full effect.
The album cover is terrific and its use of a homely, traditionally styled Christmas decoration absolutely fits the mood.
This is a delightful album that successfully takes a slightly worn out concept (`The Christmas Album') and sprinkles it with magic. Tracey and producer Ewan Pearson have found a perfect sound that is at heart acoustic but with added warmth, rhythm and the occasional subtle beat. Loved it!