CD: Beth Orton, Comfort of Strangers


At last month's Brits nominations, best-female hopeful KT Tunstall was asked what she thought of fellow nominee Natasha Bedingfield. Cheerfully oblivious to the pot/kettle state of things, KT shook her head and said: "I'm not into smooth." You can imagine Beth Orton privately having the same opinion of Tunstall, though it's entirely possible - given Orton's perennial state of gauzy detachment - that she's never heard of her. After a three-year break during which she turned 35 (her chronological age finally starting to catch up with that weathered voice), she's still the odd one out among Britain's small coterie of successful female songwriters.

On her fourth record, Orton does her thing with as much disdain for market forces as ever. Comfort of Strangers sounds as if it had been discovered mouldering in a southern attic, or on the jukebox of a "heartland truckstop" similar to the one she sings about, pedal-steel distantly twanging, on a song of that name. It's a safe bet that not many of these 14 country-folk ruminations will turn up as ringtones, if only because, to make sense, Orton needs to be heard at length, rather than as a snippet.

Even then, she only makes a sort of sense. Characteristically singing as if her tongue is too large for her mouth, she trashes the lyrics, which tumble out in a slur. She could be saying anything (Worms yields this gem: "Worms don't dance, they haven't got the balls"), yet the blurred consonants sit comfortably alongside warm, rootsy arrangements.

Shopping Trolley and Feral Children could be titles from the next Hard-Fi album, but the songs have less to do with shopping-centre hoodies than with her disjointed musings about, well, something or other. There's no linear narrative here, just fragments of sentences that elude analysis. No matter. Shopping Trolley is a rock stomp, perhaps inspired by ex-boyfriend Ryan Adams, while Feral Children is a tremulous wraith of a tune that evokes the early 1990s, and her days as the so-called "comedown queen".

The record was recorded in two weeks, and many songs sound as if they are first takes, with cracks and stumbles preserved. KT should have a listen, then re-assess exactly what constitutes "smooth". None of the songs here is likely to break Orton's record of never having had a Top 30 single. It's nice to have her back.

* Download: Feral Children; Worms


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

The next ten: Beth Orton, Comfort of Strangers

Barney Hoskyns: Minimalist collection does pop's favourite chilled folkie few favours.

Barney Hoskyns

22, Jan, 2006 @12:21 AM

The next 10: Beth Orton, Comfort of Strangers

Barney Hoskyns: Minimalist collection does pop's favourite chilled folkie few favours.

Barney Hoskyns

22, Jan, 2006 @2:14 AM

Pop review: Beth Orton

Slaughtered Lamb, London: Stripped back to its acoustic origins, Trailer Park has lost none of its magic, says Betty Clarke

Betty Clarke

30, Mar, 2009 @11:01 PM

Beth Orton, Spitz, London

Spitz, London

Sophie Heawood

16, Dec, 2005 @10:36 AM

Article image
Beth Orton | Pop review

Trip-hop folkie Beth Orton is pushing 40 but onstage she's as nervy as an awkward teenager, writes Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

12, Sep, 2009 @11:06 PM

Beth Orton, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

Alex Petridis

02, Apr, 2003 @11:13 AM

Pop CD: Beth Orton, Daybreaker


John Aizlewood

26, Jul, 2002 @1:40 PM

Beth Orton: Sugaring Season – review

A fresh, autumnal album that's unashamedly mature yet impressively free, writes Betty Clarke

Betty Clarke

27, Sep, 2012 @8:50 PM

Beth Orton: Sugaring Season – review
Beth Orton's first album for six years has a quiet propulsiveness and beautifully spare instrumentation, writes Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

29, Sep, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
New music: Beth Orton – Magpie

Michael Cragg:The distorted, sun-bleached video for this soaring new song transports us into a desert of heat strokes and hallucinations

Michael Cragg

05, Sep, 2012 @2:00 PM