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Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown (Domino Records)

Bristolian trip hop trio Portishead seem to have ploughed back into public consciousness as of late, perhaps owing to an undeniable ‘90s revival rearing its head.  Now, after winding down from the group so defined by her soft, ethereal vocals, front woman Beth Gibbons has at last put forth her solo debut.

Whilst incorporating many of the elements that made the band’s output so distinct, Lives Outgrown presents a sprinkling of these ingredients, rather than a tablespoon, leaving plenty of room for Gibbons to concoct her own unique recipe.  Written and recorded over a period of ten years, it presents a deeply personal shift for the songwriter, as she opens up about life, loss, and the agony of getting older.  “I realised what life was like with no hope” she recalls.  “And that was a sadness I’d never felt.”

We open with soft acoustic on ‘Tell Me Who You Are Today’, before the track fragments into layers of fragile vocals and pummelling percussion.  Bated breaths lay amongst the call of a children’s choir on lead single ‘Floating On A Moment’, while ‘Burden Of Life’ presents more of a sad serenade, lamenting life’s struggles.

That’s not to say that the whole record is one big downer.  Lyrically uplifting, stripped back sonically, and sounded out by soft humming and whistling, ‘Lost Changes’ wouldn’t feel out of place amongst a musical theatre performance.

As we reach the midway point, ‘Rewind’ begins to unravel.  Unhinged and otherworldly, an electric guitar rears it head, if only to create dissonance.  “Gone too far to rewind” Gibbons’ echoing voice reverberates, before the track sounds out with a sample of children playing, harking back to the horrid realisation that ageing is a one way street.

The longing wails nestled amongst ‘Reaching Out’ reveal Gibbons at her most vulnerable, as she recounts a relationship scarred by self loathing: “I need your love/To silence all my shame/I need you always”.

Plunging into ‘Oceans’, rhythmic waves crash to shore.  In a rarely told tale of female fatigue, Gibbons sings wearily from atop her sinking ship: “I’ll dive into the ocean/On the floor/I’ll gather my pride” before declaring she’s “Not afraid anymore.”

‘For Sale’ harks back to the theatrical, however this time it feels like it would be better placed in a pantomime rather than on Broadway.  In sitting amongst a record so rich in sounds, it proves a little too pared back and laconic lyrically.  But it’s back to business with ‘Beyond The Sun’, a chaotic catharsis of booming bass drums and horns going haywire.  Winding down with the serene sounds of ‘Whispering Love’, fluttering flute and fingerpicked guitar fade out into a fairytale ending of birdsong in the breeze.

More than thirty years on from her game changing musical debut, Beth Gibbons’ first solo effort plates up a hearty blend of poetry and psychedelia, stirred in amongst a helping of folk, and finished off beautifully with her stunning voice.  It’s hard to resist coming back for seconds.

Lives Outgrown is out now via Domino Records.

Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown (Domino Records)

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.