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Album Review: Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown

3 min read
"Lives Outgrown is a brilliant album with an urbane, sophisticated sound" - our full review of Lives Outgrown by Portishead singer, Beth Gibbons

“Beth Gibbons… is she a new artist on the scene?”  No, you uncouth Luddite!!!  Whilst this is her first solo studio album as a solo artist, she is/was THE singer from Portishead!  Lives Outgrown has been a decade in the making, with Gibbons writing lyrics that cover a range of covering a range of personal issues and experiences, and topics that are extremely sensitive, even on a general level, including motherhood, anxiety, and the deaths of friends and family.  On a personal level, I’ve been looking forward to covering this album for a while – I‘m of the opinion that Beth could sing the contents of a menu and I would be extremely moved, so it will be interesting to see if reality matches my expectation….

Starting off strongly, Tell Me Who You Are Today is spine-tingling!  Beth’s vocals have clearly not degraded over the years, and the orchestral/musical arrangement and tone of the track is a mix of Jose Gonzales and Bjork (think Play Dead), and not so devolved from the mood set in some of the darker Portishead tracks.  From strength to strength, Floating on a Moment is my favourite track on the album, and, in general, the best song I’ve heard in a while – Gibbons’ vocals weave between the lower pitch slower verse and higher pitch chorus, and meshes perfectly with the string arrangement and use of backing singers that are used to elevate the climax of the song – reminds me of some of the down-tempo acoustic takes Zero 7 did at their peak… but better.  Starting off with a hint of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang in the vocals, Burden of Life has a western, pre-shoot out feel to the musical set up, and this is followed by Lost Changes – a sombre song about how feelings (towards Beth, in the song) change… and not necessarily for the better, as she yearns for the love as it was – chilling.

Drums and guitars (instant Massive Attack Inertia Creeps vibes) drive Rewind, with Gibbons vocals acting more as a side plate to the instrumentation, whilst subsequent track Reaching Out retains the brooding aura, but with quicker tempo, fluctuating between minimal verse and a busier chorus (initially), which progressively takes over the track as a whole – an extremely well-constructed piece of music.  This is followed by the entrancing Oceans, and follow up, For Sale, which has a bardic quality – heeding warning of ruining everything by wanting too much.  In penultimate track Beyond the Sun the instruments take centre stage with an Eastern, Persian Empire feel to the track (I am convinced that the Surbahar was used… or at least inspired the instrumentation) which works fantastically well, whilst rounding off proceedings we have Whispering Love, which (for me) has a Goldfrapp Clowns quality to the track – serene melody, replete with flutes, and Beth once again understanding that ‘a less is more’ approach to vocals can elevate both the track and the impact of the vocals themselves – what a way to finish!!

Lives Outgrown is a brilliant album with an urbane, sophisticated sound.  Each track is there on its own merits, and whilst there is a thematic consistency to the album, no two tracks are the same.   The lyrics are written with purpose and sung with a genuine intent and understanding of the meaning of each song to Gibbons.  Musically, you can hear the Portishead lineage running throughout the album, though this is a step away from trip hop, and toward a more mature, orchestral sound.  This is the best album I have heard in a long time, and I can offer no higher praise than the following – it exceeded my expectations!

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