Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown

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Beth Gibbons Lives Outgrown review

Throughout her singular, three-decade career, Beth Gibbons has released four significant and distinctive debuts. In 1994, her legendary band Portishead released the first of three albums in their abbreviated but nonetheless perfect discography: Dummy, a darkly intoxicating hybrid of cinematic noir and beat-driven production that introduced Bristol trip-hop to a wider audience. Eight years later, Gibbons paired with Rustin Man, aka former Talk Talk member Paul Webb, on the lush, melancholy folk album Out of Season. After another 17 years, Gibbons took on another first as a vocalist with a symphony, delivering her most challenging vocal performance to date on Symphony No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Op. 36, composed by Henryk Górecki and conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki. And it’s only now, nearly 30 years after the release of Dummy, that Gibbons releases her first proper album as a solo singer/songwriter on Lives Outgrown.

Stark, mournful and delicately somber, Lives Outgrown is an album defined by endings more than beginnings—as Gibbons put it succinctly in a statement, “lots of goodbyes.” Where the music of her famous group often found her as the eye of a hurricane of passion and paranoia, menace and portent, on her long-awaited solo debut, here she offers meditations on loss—of friends and family, of past versions of herself. These are reflections from a different station in life, where the optimism and stubbornness of youth fades into a hard-earned sense of perspective and acceptance.

Diverting from the gritty bombast of Portishead’s most dramatic moments, Gibbons crafts something more delicately haunting on Lives Outgrown. Working with producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Simian Mobile Disco) and collaborator Lee Harris (Talk Talk, ‘O’Rang), Gibbons captures a captivating and familiar sense of melancholy through a more gentle and spacious textural and tonal palette. But these songs still creep across a gorgeous and lush spectrum of darkness, invariably breathtaking while frequently hanging heavy with grief and anguish, made flesh through Gibbons’ signature vocal quiver.

Opener “Tell Me Who You Are Today” breathes sinister life into the album with droning bass and mysterious stabs of strings, an uncomfortable awakening in which Gibbons pleads, “If I could change the way I feel/If I could make my body heal.” By and large, the other nine songs are mostly more airy and delicate, like the gentle trickles of arpeggios on “Floating in a Moment,” the slow build and eerie orchestrations of “Burden of Life,” or the graceful waltz of “Lost Changes,” wherein Gibbons reflects on the need to “realize the sweet caress/Appreciate the tenderness.” But even amid these softer textures and quiet meditations, a tempest stirs beneath, rising up within the prickly squalls of “Rewind,” reminiscent of Third‘s least outwardly hostile sounds, as well as the sinister pulse of “Reaching Out,” with its complex expression of desire and desperation: “I need your love/To silence all my shame.”

That Lives Outgrown arrives when it does—five years after Gibbons’ orchestral recording, 16 years down the road from Portishead’s last (for now) recordings, and two years after a surprise collaboration with Kendrick Lamar—feels strangely apropos for someone whose output has never been defined by immediate satisfaction, press cycles or even the long-term sustainability or lack thereof in being a professional artist. Gibbons’ command over its stunning material isn’t at all surprising after a career’s worth of growth and challenging expectations. Yet the perspective that Lives Outgrown carries could have only arrived at this moment, forged in grief over loved ones and the wisdom that comes from motherhood. But in that tangle of emotions and lived experiences so beautifully expressed, Gibbons’ takeaway remains a simple one, as she sings in “Floating on a Moment”: “All we have is here and now.

Label: Domino

Year: 2024

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Beth Gibbons Lives Outgrown review

Beth Gibbons : Lives Outgrown

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