Tracey Thorn has done some incredible work over her career, from Everything But the Girl to her work with Massive Attack and her excellent soundtrack for Carol Morley’s The Falling. Her last book, Bedsit Disco Queen, was a real gem and here she concentrates purely on the art of singing.
Tracey suffers from stage fright and hasn’t performed live since 2000. This move gives a great insight into what it’s like to be a singer and looks at what makes a singer special. She says people expect the singer to be like the people they know from the long songs that they know and love. The singer is very much the focal point for most people, with other band members not getting anywhere near the same level of attention.
She likes people that aren’t ‘perfect’ singers, such as Bjork. Punk singers and Bob Dylan don’t have strong voices but we have to pay attention to what they’re saying. We can’t just swoon along and miss some of their lyrics. Folk singing is minimal in style, it’s all about delivering the song whereas soul singers are constantly adding things. She says that people will adopt mannerisms but really it should all be about projecting confidence and individuality in the voice.
She’s a proponent of Auto Tune, showing that it you used for minor things that you wouldn’t notice in order to cover up a slight blemish. It’s not just all about the sugary pop tracks that sound beyond human. She’s a fan of talent shows like The Voice and The X Factor, entertainment shows that look at people trying to make it as singers.
The book looks at how audience can maybe have a different experience at a concert to the artist, perhaps attaching memories of the song. Cliche can be more appreciated by the audience than genuine moments of magic. What constitutes a great performance will vary from person to person.
She questions why Scott Walker and Thom Yorke have moved away from using their beautiful voices, using very different vocal styles. She talks about how songs allow us to sing what cannot be said and how Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett sing like they speak.
Tracey says that when we were young we joined in with singing, had a go regardless of good we were. Singing for the fun of it is now coming back coming back with karaoke, local choirs and the vast amount of people auditioning for programmes like The X factor. She reflects on whether she can call herself a singer if she doesn’t really do it anymore. But of course she does sing, when people aren’t around. The communal singing doesn’t necessarily have a higher value that singing for the love of it.
This is a brilliant book that looks at all areas of singing. She uses quotes from literature to colour her book and she’s always extremely readable, even when talking about the ins and outs of a microphone. Singers and music fans will get a lot of this sharp and informative book.