If you have ever been a young clubber (and by "young," I mean under 23), then you have had an Old Guy moment. It happens when you are reveling in your youthful splendor and suddenly realize there is some Old Guy dancing alongside you. He may not even notice you, but his presence is nonetheless alarming. You're suddenly confronted with the thought that one day you're going to be the Old Guy or Gal and that isn't going to be fun. And isn't clubbing all about fun? And denying reality? And nothing is more real than age. Time may be an illusion, but the Old Guy makes it look pretty freakin' solid. Acknowledging the Old Guy means acknowledging your privileged, limited-time existence in clubworld. And beyond clubworld, as we know, is the realworld. Yuck.
My young clubbing days were in the early 90s, during the Stone Roses/Happy Mondays/Deee-Lite era when Ecstasy had just recently arrived in quantity on these shores and all things English seemed super cool. Everything about those days is gone for me now, except the Stone Roses and the ongoing Anglophilia. In those raving days, there were quite a few Old Guys around; English guys who had been doing Ecstasy for many years, apparently, and were surfing the rave wave around the world. They were probably only in their late 30s, but the drug use and my own youthful prejudice conspired to make them seem ancient.
True to form, now that I am equally ancient I no longer go to clubs. I still like dancing, but I do not want to be the Old Gal on any dance floor. As an Anglophile, however, I've come to learn that the Old Guy phenomenon does not exist in England. There, people of all ages and coolness factors go to clubs. They all listen to pop music shamelessly, too. Okay, maybe not the Royal Family, but almost everyone else. This is a good thing, I think. The people who invented Highbrow culture have also found a way to love the Lowbrow. It helps explain the career of Tracey Thorn.
If you know La Thorn then you already love her. If not, welcome to the smooth, velvety, beautiful sound of one of the world's great pop singers. Tracey Thorn is one half of the band Everything But the Girl, the other half being her husband, Ben Watt. He's a talented producer and musician and DJ and all that, but EBTG would be nowhere without Thorn. She is the "everything" in EBTG.
EBTG released its first record in 1984 but most Americans didn't know they existed until a decade later, when the song "Missing" finally cracked the U.S. airwaves (does the lyric, "Like the deserts miss the rain" ring a bell?). Despite Watt's studio brilliance and Thorn's unparalleled voice, the reason EBTG never made it big here is simple: they make dance music. And to this day, dance music remains an "underground" genre in the U.S.
American success notwithstanding (what did Watt and Thorn care; they were already heroes in their own country), EBTG took an existing formula and made it their own. The formula, adapted straight from Disco, was the following:
4 to the Floor Beat + Hi-Tech Production + A Soulful, Deeply Human Female Voice = Fantastic Dance Music
The brilliance of Thorn's singing is in her effortlessnes. She almost sounds as if she's just talking to you, rather than belting anything out. Of course, her impeccable phrasing and range are wonderful, as is her ability to convey intense emotion in a single syllable. Many other bands sought her out as a guest vocalist: Massive Attack ("Protection") and The Style Council ("Paris Match") are two that you must hear.
What Thorn proves on her new album, Out of the Woods, is that the Old Gal phenomenon is a non-issue on the other side of the Atlantic. I am happy to say that she is older than I, and she is still making kickass dance music that the kids love. She and Watt, who are married and have three children, take dance music seriously Â– as many of their English compatriots do. If their MySpace pages are to be believed, Watt and Thorn consider a weekend in Ibiza a fun family vacation. Her new album is very EBTG in its pulsing beats, state-of-the-art production, and Thorn's classic singing. I predict that it will not chart in the U.S., but nevertheless be a big hit in American clubs and on iTunes. Thorn has an American fan base, but not enough of us are admitting that we still wish we were out on the dance floor.