Far from Portishead, Beth Gibbons releases an album “between the grandiose and the intimate”

“A little unexpected gift that we have been waiting for for a long time”, summarizes Grayson Haver Currin on the American Public Radio website NPR in a rave review. Promised for over ten years, Lives Outgrown, Beth Gibbons’ unexpected first solo album, was finally released on May 17. The singer of Portishead, who we heard from time to time in featuring (with Kendrick Lamar) or in duet (with Jane Birkin) in recent years, or singing the Symphony No. 3 by Gorecki, broke the barometer of press sites and their mania for giving ratings: it’s five-stars everywhere among the most serious Anglo-Saxon music critics – only the American site Pitchfork plays smart by rating it 8/10.

“We can never accuse Beth Gibbons of overworking herself in the rapacious quest for fame: her solo debut comes twenty-two years after her collaboration with Rustin Man, Out of Season, sixteen years after Portishead’s last album, Third”, summarizes Alexis Petridis in The Guardian. Which evokes “a unique sound which we suspect was only obtained after extensive experimentation”, amazed by “a sound world that is entirely its own” to Beth Gibbons.

Majestic arrangements

Far, far away from the sound of Portishead, Lives Outgrown plows its furrow in a majestic and experimental orchestral folk in ten compact titles (forty-five minutes), recorded with a small team: the extraordinary drummer of Talk Talk Lee Harris, who allows himself all the eccentricities (and forbids himself snare drum so as not to sound like the pioneering trip hop group), and producer James Ford (of the flamboyant Simian Mobile Disco).

Clearly, the producer of the moment (we recently owed him the albums of Arctic Monkeys, Blur, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys), Ford, plays the handyman, sometimes credited with more than a dozen instruments on pieces where we hear acoustic guitar, different flutes, clarinet, various and varied keyboards, a Farfisa and the whole palette of strings.

“The true majesty of the album lies in the arrangements that are both grandiose and intimate, as if Gibbons had stored an entire symphony in his living room and then bent it to his liking,” writes Grayson Haver Currin nicely on the NPR website.

“Intimate, natural, unpredictable”

Lives Outgrown more often looks dense than lush, a subtle shade of sepia and gray reminiscent of Warren Ellis-era Bad Seeds (since 2013) or I Inside the Old Year Dying (the last album) by PJ Harvey”, notes Victoria Segal in a beautiful review for the British magazine Mojo. “It may have taken years to create this record, but it still feels intimate, natural, sometimes menacing and unpredictable, she adds. The sounds rise and fall against Gibbons’ voice like a tide.”

If the sound changes, the tone remains the same. “Melodies of endless melancholy and lyrics of pointed depth”, writes Ben Cardew for Pitchfork.

“At the heart of Lives Outgrown, there is a back and forth between past, present and future, Gibbons drawing inspiration from his personal history while carefully avoiding the palette that made Portishead so popular.”

The English singer, who is approaching sixty, opens up without taboo about her femininity, her aging, her anxieties, in a record “deeply concerned about the prospect of dying, as Victoria Segal says. Despite her usual elusiveness, Gibbons explained that they were songs overshadowed by death, songs dealing with loss, heartbreak and menopause – a phase of life she describes as a ‘massive audit’ Who ‘cuts your knees’.

NPR concludes very nicely: “From start to finish, this record is a response to Gibbons’ personal testimony: no false trail or trickery, just an opening into his inner self.”

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