Tracey Thorn admits it. She's obsessed with Twitter.
"It's so gossipy and fun and everything that I like about connecting with people," the British singer says, laughing, as she gets comfortable on a couch in the drawing room of The Greenwich Hotel. "It's completely democratic. People either believe you or they don't. You can start out and say, 'Oh, I'm just going to use it to talk about my work.' But once you get drawn into it, before you know it, you're just talking rubbish like everyone else. I love it. I love hearing when people are about to have a cup of tea."
Tuning into Thorn's Twitter stream usually brings discussions of British politics; her day with her three children; conversations with her longtime Everything but the Girl partner and husband, Ben Watt, and the general puncturing of any inflated fantasies about what life as the pop stars behind the global sensation "Missing" might be like.
"I'll be tweeting from the studio, all day probably, becoming more hysterical as the hours pass," she tweets before an appearance on the BBC. "Anyone got any tranquilizers?"
Life after 40
It's the other part Thorn loves about Twitter. It gives her a chance to let the world in on one of the music industry's biggest secrets. Pop stars, you see, get older.
And on her new album, "Love and Its Opposite" (Merge), which arrives in stores Tuesday, Thorn sets out to continue that revelation while providing a rare look at real life for 40-somethings.
"I've always written from the perspective of being true to the details of my life," says the 47-year-old Thorn. "I'm not going to start writing songs that suddenly imply that I'm living a lifestyle that's completely different. One of the things I realized was that I don't need to, there's no need to look backward in order to find drama. There's certainly plenty of drama around me and in the lives of the people around me. I thought, 'These are stories that need to be told.' "
That includes "Hormones," the very specific tale of a mother watching her daughter grow up. "That's another story that's not very often told, in pop music particularly," Thorn says, laughing. "And yet in pop or rock music, we do know we carry on into older age. There are other women out there working, and they think it's all right to hear songs about approaching menopause while their daughters are becoming teenagers. For a lot of rock critics, they're going to hear that and go, 'Oh, yuck!' And that's fine. I'm not saying everyone has to be into it. But I think some people will say, 'Wow! Someone's writing a song about that.' "
It's a feeling that runs through "Love and Its Opposite," as Thorn sings about relationships from a distinctly adult viewpoint. Whether it's the telling details of "Oh, the Divorces" or the bittersweet return to the dating pool in "Singles Bar" or the lush melancholy of "Swimming," Thorn presents her unique point of view, an approach to songwriting tied to her love of music. "I can hear songs from people whose lifestyles are totally different than mine," she says. "But if it's described truthfully and interestingly and I feel it's vivid and real, then I can connect."
And she feels music fans will connect to her songs in a similar way.
Back from a break
Unlike so many of today's singers, Thorn isn't willing to do anything for a hit. She took an eight-year hiatus starting in 1999 to become a full-time mom, and her return in 2007 with her solo album "Out of the Woods" hasn't changed her mind.
"It just reminded me that I don't really need to be in it," she says. "It just made me think, 'Yeah, I was right.' There is just this one aspect of it that I love - the writing of the songs and the being in the studio to record them - and the rest of it I can take or leave."
Even the performing?
"The performing especially," she says. "I have no problems with that. It isn't just the logistics of touring. I never loved performing live, anyway. I found it very anxiety-inducing. Unless you love being onstage and you're one of those people who only feel alive when they're performing, there are elements of it that are just a chore and you're just going out and re-creating songs over and over again. Once I've sung songs a few times in the studio, I just want to write new ones. I don't want to sing them every night."
That self-awareness extended to her choice of record companies. "Coming out on a major label like Virgin or EMI would be like misusing a massive piece of machinery, which works brilliantly when it's trying to sell a mass-produced product in large quantities around the world," Thorn says. "For someone like me, who's not touring, who's not making big videos, it just seems like an inappropriate scale. Working with Merge, it feels like the right thing to have done. I don't feel like I have to apologize for what I'm not doing."
Thorn isn't going to apologize for not reuniting Everything but the Girl at the moment, either. "We're both happily pursuing what we want," she says, as Watt waits nearby for Thorn to finish her commitments so they can explore Manhattan. "It is bizarre because, obviously, we're together anyway. It always sounds weird to us when people ask, 'When are you going to get back together?' The only thing we don't do together is go into the studio and write songs. And we did that a lot of times. It is kind of unusual to have a working and living together partnership. . . . The way we've done it since we've had the kids is that's become our life together - the family life and private life - and our work lives have become more separate. That strikes me as much more sane, actually."
Thorn says she's happy about the relatively sane rollout for "Love and Its Opposite," as well. "There'll be a little bit of flurry of activity for a while," she says with a smile. "And then I'll go back to my life."
She can't do it all alone
Though Tracey Thorn specifically set out to make her new album, "Love and Its Opposite," a solo affair, she has been a sought-after collaborator throughout her career.
Here are some of Thorn's most memorable group efforts:
Everything but the Girl
ROLE Co-founder of the British duo with Ben Watt, Thorn handled most of the vocals in their eclectic catalog that spans jazz, folk, new wave, pop and eventually electronic dance music.
WHEN 1982-1999 (on hiatus)
BIGGEST HIT "Missing" (No. 2, 1995)
BIGGEST HIT "The Paris Match"
ROLE Collaborator with the British trip-hop pioneers on their "Protection" album, including the genre-making title track, and for their contribution to the "Batman Forever" soundtrack, a cover of "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game"
BIGGEST HIT "Protection"
ROLE Guest vocalist on the German electro group's single "Damage," which became an international dance hit.
BIGGEST HIT "Damage"