Brilliant song from Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn, it is from an album released last year called simply ‘Record’, we feature the track ‘Smoke’ on our new Alternative playlist.
On ‘Smoke’, Thorn condenses decades of British history into verses that intertwine a national narrative with a personal one, detailing the journey of her ancestors from “the wide flat fields to the rolling smoke”. The smoke in question is of course London, where Thorn’s mother finds herself in the midst of the blitz, emerging unscathed, unlike an acquaintance who was “blown to bits.” It’s a history that’s familiar from the textbooks, but also one that’s imbued with more than a touch of the personal, Thorn’s lyrics blending the public and the private into one interwoven narrative.
It’s appropriate, given that ideas of Britishness are born just as much from rose-tinted history lessons as they are from family anecdotes. Thorn keeps her family’s history sparse and relatable, rooting it in tragi-romantic images of the blitz and smog. The result is a collage of anecdotes and imagery that feels instantly familiar, Thorn summoning not just the image of Britain, but the feeling of it. As she points out, however, it’s a feeling that’s changed over the last year or so.
After the result of the Brexit vote (and perhaps even before), people who naively believed Britain was a country of tolerance and kindness were forced to face an uncomfortable truth. Surely Thorn is not the only person to look at London with new eyes in recent years, nor the only person to believe it was a city who accepted everyone regardless of their colour or creed. Confronted with a bitter reality, Thorn is left dejected and questioning. This is summed up perfectly in the refrain, in which she dolefully sings: “London you’re in my blood and you’ve been there for so long / London you’re in my blood but I feel you going wrong.”
So why does ‘Smoke’ succeed where other tracks have failed? The success of ‘Smoke’ lies in its emphasis on feeling, tapping into an often unspoken sensation of shame, disappointment and dread. It refuses to get bogged down in moralising, instead lamenting a country that is morphing into something new, something unpleasant and mean, utilising evocative imagery, anxious electronic beats and yearning piano to great effect. It’s a subtle approach, but one that pays off. What ‘Smoke’ manages to encapsulate is the sinking feeling felt by thousands of like-minded people all over the country, watching the rise of the far-right and spike in hate crime. It’s a song for rational-thinking Brits who, until recently, felt like Britain was their home. It’s an elegy for a country that feels increasingly isolated and hellbent on isolating itself further, on building walls and pandering to zealots. On ‘Smoke’, Thorn looks at all of this and shakes her head, despairing at the ugliness before her and praying for a change, anything at all to make it all OK, but surely knowing there’s no miracle on the horizon.
Tracks featured are now in our archived playlist but you can still listen here and check out the latest music added to our playlist below.
You can learn more about Tracey Thorn here 🔻
Do you want your music on our playlists
When did the blues become indigo is a reference made by a music journalist I read some years ago, it’s meaning is about how one genre of music mutates into another, we continually search to discover new shades to add to that spectrum and tell the story of how the blues transformed into today’s music, follow us below and go here to submit your own music to appear on our playlists.