After six years in hiding (motherhood, recapturing the muse, shaking off the last vestiges of the post-rave folktronica/quiet-is-the-new-loud late 90s tags) Beth Orton returns with another album of Beth Orton songs. It’s not as boring and under-delivering as 2006’s Comfort of Strangers (given that featured Jim O’Rourke) but it’s also not going to excite in a way those first two albums did. (I realise I used the word ‘excite’ in a review of a Beth Orton record).
But it is her third best album – and her best in over a decade, and it feels like a return to strong(er) songwriting. But it also seems like only the (truly) faithful could ever possibly care.
Magpie is the strong opener – and over multiple plays Sugaring Season, a subtle, deceptive album reveals that the strength is in the songwriting. And there are some brilliant supporting players (Brian Blade, Marc Ribot) helping to guide the tunes in the right direction, never dominating. But I’m still not sure a lot of people will care. That seems a shame. Hearing this album was a bit like catching up with an old chum from the university days that you never ever fell out with but never fully stayed in touch with – nice to see them, nice to hear from them and you wish them well; enjoyed reconnecting too. But you know it is not the start of a new friendship, nor a new version of the old friendship. It’s just nice to catch up.
It was nice to catch up with Beth Orton. And that’s hardly glowing now is it.