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In Bloom

 

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man: Out of Season

Go! Beat, 2003

Rating: 4.7

 

Posted: January 20, 2003

By Laurence Station

Beth Gibbons' voice is a beautifully sad instrument that can convey heartbreak on par with Billie Holiday or impart sophisticated yearning à la Nina Simone. With all due respect to programmer/multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow, when one thinks of influential trip-hop outfit Portishead, it's Gibbons' voice that usually comes to mind. On Out of Season, she teams up with former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb (using the alias Rustin Man here) to craft a delicately understated, romantically melancholic collection of songs that tap into universal themes of isolation and loneliness, the catch being that Gibbons and Webb choose to celebrate those moments in life when one feels cut off, be it emotionally or physically, from the rest of the world -- out of step with both time and place.

The opening "Mysteries," with its peaceful, lullaby-strumming guitar work, and "Show," where Gibbons admits to "Pains in me that I've never found," typify the album's somber (yet never dour) mood. Here we find a sanctuary of sadness, a private place in which to take refuge from the initial sting of rejection (romantic or otherwise). Gibbons willfully cloaks herself in exile's robes, standing outside the comings and goings of everyday life, passively studying the intricate patterns of nature and changing of seasons. The hustle and bustle of the city has faded, the demands of others cast aside, in favor of outdoor reflection coupled with studied introspection.

That ethereal, out-of-phase atmosphere pervades Out of Season. There’s a non-specific aspect to the tracks that gives them a classical, timeless quality reminiscent of Nick Drake. (Indeed, one of the songs is called "Drake," but true to the non-personalized nature of the lyrics it could be about a forklift driver named Bill from Manchester just as much as the doomed English folk singer.) Time and distance -- in "Spider Monkey," which laments that "Our future won't let go," and "Resolve," where "Summer skies / Are leaving me behind" -- add spatial depth to what might otherwise slip into too generic a muddle without leaving a noticeable impression.

That Out of Season leaves an imprint, and a powerfully lasting one at that, is a testament to Gibbons’ carefully sculpted lyrics and her vocal interpretation of same, combined with Webb’s unobtrusive but no less vital studio work. Bluesy numbers like "Tom the Model" and the lone electronic track, "Rustin Man," certainly add welcome variety to the mix. Special mention must also go to Portishead guitarist Adrian Uttley, who distinguishes himself throughout.

On "Funny Time of Year," the best cut here, Gibbons perfectly sums up her feelings regarding isolation, hope, love and heartbreak: "Turning now I see no reason / The voice of love so out of season / I need you now / But you can't see me now / I'm travelling with no destination / Still hanging on to what may be." It’s that hope of love, of finding something meaningful to care about in this world, that gives Out of Season uncommon weight and a quiet dignity rare in today’s musical marketplace, where shouting one’s intentions have become the norm rather than the exception. If nothing else, Out of Season proves that a whisper can carry more power and meaning than a thousand attention-seeking screams. This is one affectionate ode to sorrow that gets its message across loud and clear.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
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 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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