June 20, 2024

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Beth Gibbons: Lives Outgrown review – the Portishead singer’s solo debut elegantly contemplates mortality | Pop and rock

Change is the only constant: the more the birthdays rack up, the more some platitudes land bone-deep. Beth Gibbons’s very long-awaited debut solo album comes as a riposte to time’s lethal arrow and, throughout its 10-year gestation, to the loss of loved ones, relationships, health, ovulation; other things that have gone “too far to rewind”. Given Gibbons’s role in trip-hop heroes Portishead, Lives Outgrown is a notably breakbeat-free zone. And unlike her 2002 album with Rustin’ Man, Out of Season, she doesn’t turn to the swoop of jazz to impart longing, either.

The woody timbres here are most often those of folk, but this is a modern, free ancientness that swings and tumbles (Reaching Out); on For Sale, Raven Bush’s violin looks eastwards. The percussion, by Lee Harris of Talk Talk, has a speaking role: boxes of curtains, wooden drawers and cowhide water bottles don’t just keep time, but enact the collapse of everything known. “We all know what’s coming,” mourns Gibbons on Rewind, a song that ends, with sinister bleakness, on children playing in the water. Vigour and life are everywhere, though: on the fanfares on Beyond the Sun, in Burden of Life’s silvery grace, and the elegiac closure of Floating on a Moment.

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