“A painted horizon“

„There‘s a real sense of being repeatedly slammed up against mortality by biology, especially on the salt-scoured „Oceans“. Gibbons sings of ovulation, and exhaustion, in an unusual porous, chalky register, the song ending with her sinking to the (rock) bottom of the sea, „not afraid any more“. If that all sounds bleak, it is. Yet „Lives Outgrown“ is also very beautiful not least when  Gibbons quietly sings „it‘s not that i don‘t wanto to return“, on Floating On A Moment‘s contemplation of death.“ (Victoria Segal, Mojo, June)

From the start, all of her works have been collaborative. In the very early days when strolling through small venues and pubs, she often relied on a repertoire of classics, made famous by Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. Later on, in the Portishead years (that perfect trio with Barrow & Utley), the silences in between, and, after the fractured blow away zone of „Third“, out of another nowhere, „Out Of Season“, the album with Paul Webb aka Rustin Man. At last singing Gorecki – all teamwork: the intricacies of her voice, the surrounding sounds, the immaculate productions.  Landscapes she‘s been moving through. The urban darkness. The dystopia, the hometown. The hinterland. Between  „Dummy“ and „Out Of Season“ a archaic sort of melancholia took center stage, strangely uplifting, elevating. All the way through she led a reluctant life, never hurrying for fame. And now, after a career spanning three decades and more, her first proper solo album, and it comes a long as a sort of farewell.

It took her (and her fabulous companions, former Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris, producer and multi-instrumentalist James Ford, and a well-chosen crew, Raven Bush on cello and violin amongst them) ten years from first sketches to final mixes. Beth’s singing now reaching out so far and deep – not heard that vocal range before. Hypermelodic and far, far out at the same time. Restrainment and passion all over the place (clash of polarities). From a distance, vibes of „The Wicker Man“ and ancient incantations . „Lives Outgrown“ is a unique achievement of kindred spirits, the darkest campfire chamber music we may have heard in quite a while. The listener will soon realize that James Ford’s sophisticated, lush arrangements do not simply embellish the songs artistically, but rather add a second, third layer to them, the famous double bottom, counterpoints, subversive vibrations.

The old stuff laid bare: grief, growing old, losses (and what change is gonna come after sleepless nights for too long). The beyond of the everyday. „On the path / With my restless curiosity / Beyond life / Before me …“ The most „progressive“ instruments: a mellotron, an oscillator, and an electric guitar. Floating lines (on the verge of breaking apart). Passages close to catching fire (and catching fire). The glow, the gloom. Under that nearly controlled delivery of Gibbons‘ singing a high wire tension, most of the time. No involvement of cozy nostalgia, of things coming to rest – in spite of the last song, an invocation of nature and peace of mind, like a dream, at least traces of acceptance. What a terrific work. The most honest review: a painted horizon.

Ein Kommentar

  • Michael Engelbrecht

    From the presskit:

    Beth Gibbons (Portishead) had been working with Lee Harris (Talk Talk) on finding the right drum sound for the songs she’d been writing — and getting nowhere. She wanted to get away from break beats. “I can’t be doing with the snare any more,” she says. “A lot of beats are irritating these days, because they’ve been rinsed.”

    Walking across the studio at Devon Barn, she kicked a cardboard box, and not entirely jokingly wondered aloud if that was a better sound than anything they’d tried so far.

    Harris happily took this as his cue. “Anywhere she wanted to go, I went,” he says. So they started playing whatever was lying around. First up was a wooden drawer. Then the Tupperware came out. Tins were filled with peas. “We were searching for anything that sounded different,” says Harris. His eventual “drumkit” included a paella dish, a metal sheet, bits of the mixing desk and a cowhide water bottle as the snare. The kick drum was a box full of curtains.

    And most of it was played with soft timpani beaters. “We had to find a way of making it present, but not toppy,” says Harris, “and pretty much all the album is played really quietly. It’s got a light feel. It’s not bashed.” In consequence, Harris’s playing is quite undrummerlike: he’s not keeping the beat, he’s playing music that weaves around and through the guitar and vocal. The effect is subtle, beautiful and extraordinary.

    To build on this new “woody” sound, Beth went shopping and came back with a sack of new instruments like a jute, a dulcimer and a thing no-one knows the name of which sounds a bit like a double bass, but looks like a ukulele with no frets and thick, rubber strings, and is a nightmare to play in tune.


    When producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys) came on board, the search for the sound continued. “I’m fairly gung ho,” he says, “fairly handy at picking things up and having a go. And once Beth figured I was up for it, she kept passing me an instrument and maybe something to hit it with — chopsticks or a hammer — and saying, “get something out of that”. At one point, she presented me with a set of three recorders. I hadn’t played recorder since primary school.”

    Not that Beth cared. “We’re not trying to be the Philharmonic,” she told him. The quest for unusual textures went even further. On the album’s opening track, “Tell Me Who You Are Today,” Ford can be heard inside a piano, striking the strings with spoons. “Another time,” he remembers, “me, Lee and Beth were crawling round the studio whirling tubes over our heads and making animal noises to get this creepy room tone.”

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