tue 25/06/2024

Album: Beth Gibbons - Lives Outgrown | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Beth Gibbons - Lives Outgrown

Album: Beth Gibbons - Lives Outgrown

Intimate songs of unavoidable sorrow

Many faces of maturity

It’s been a long while since Beth Gibbons released an album. Portishead’s Third was out in 2008.  She has lived through so many changes since, and, even though her signature is still very much in glorious evidence, Lives Outgrown represents a step forward and deeper than the moody indie pop of Out of Season her last solo outing, made with with Rustin Man (Paul Webb) of Talk Talk.

This is a brave mid-life album from a woman who doesn’t shrink from darkness. Beth Gibbons sang vocals for Henryk Górecki’s  Symphony No.3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) in 2019, as if that still and melancholy work had been written for her. There’s a maturity in her new album that’s both very moving, and startling in its emotional authenticity. Gone are the widescreen soundscapes of her Portishead youth. Now a mother, she has embarked on the night sea voyage that is the menopause, mortality coiling its way slowly around her soul.

From the opening track “Tell Me Who You Are Today”, she explores – without a hint of self-pity – the innermost layers of a self that has been eroded, along with the inevitable metamorphosis of an ageing body. The Ancient Greeks imagined Chronos or Saturn as the god that made for the unavoidable passing of time. The mineral associated with the god was lead. In “Burden of Life”, Gibbons evokes the weight and downward pull of years passing her by.  We are closer here, though stylistically a thousand miles away, to the melancholy evoked in Schubert’s great songs, and the essence of much Romantic poetry.

The orchestration and production are perfectly suited to the mood of the songs – laments for what is past, and a reconciliation with the inevitability of change. There are swirls of strings, along with Gibbons’s own guitar and funereal percussion. There are moments, as in the lush and beautiful song “Lost Changes” when she could be PJ Harvey’s sister, the post-“White Chalk” persona of the once-howling blues queen, who's similarly plunged into the depths, but drawing on her particular take on history and place. Beth Gibbons’s mourning is intimate, a chronicle of necessary initiation.

“Rewind”, a more upbeat song, though with a dose of near-metal menace, remains close to the dark core of the singer-songwriter’s essence. There are surprises, as in other tracks, sounds and rhythm changes that clash as well coalesce. This is adventurous stuff, new territory for a singer who formerly stayed closer to the mainstream and the tropes of the cinematic Bristol sound she originally made so popular.

This is an album that'll undoubtedly bear repeated listening: work created painstakingly through a decade of profound inner transformation: whether it's the edge-of-your-seat foreboding of “Reaching Out”, where she channels her inner banshee, or the sorrow of “Oceans” where she resigns herself and sings that “reality has failed me”.  And yet, she finishes on a quiet note of reassurance and spiritual comfort with “Whispering Love”, held aloft by a sensual flute. Age may hurt, but it offers perhaps a special kind of wisdom and appreciation that inevitably replaces the excitement and forward pull of youth.

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