Song 354: Tracey Thorn, “Joy” (2012)

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You could argue that this song is kind of a bummer, that Tracey Thorn is the Debbie Downer at the Christmas party. It’s true, “Joy” isn’t all hot cocoa and snowflakes: “When someone very dear,” she sings, “calls you with the words ‘Everything’s all clear’/That’s what you want to hear/But you know it might be different a new year.” Merry Christmas.

But the next line is what makes the song more than a stocking full of coal: “That’s why we hang the lights so high.” Thorn isn’t saying we don’t, or shouldn’t, celebrate like we do, she’s pointing out why Christmas is so important. We’ve all experienced loss, despair and loneliness, and those things make the good times great. Without darkness, we wouldn’t even know the light was there.

I think it’s interesting that Thorn chose a Christmas song for these themes, which could readily apply to any time of year. I wonder if Thorn wanted to provide an antidote to all the goddamn cheeriness in most Christmas songs, or if she couldn’t resist the imagery of candles, snow-covered trees, and carols that make you cry.

I love Tracey Thorn’s voice, which recalls Linda Thompson’s in its weight and sturdiness. It works especially well for songs like “Joy,” in which weight and sturdiness play significant roles. That low voice is counterbalanced by the gentle jingle bells and high piano, which reflects the light and dark of the song’s lyrics. It’s all of a piece, and everything goes where it should.

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