Beth Gibbons: Lives Outgrown – A powerful, wise and deeply loving piece of work

Portishead singer has channelled grief and trauma into a meditation on metamorphoses that is both a clear and dewy-eyed

Lives Outgrown
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Artist: Beth Gibbons
Label: Domino

When Beth Gibbons “realised what life was like with no hope”, after grief and trauma visited her in different shapes, she slowly directed it into her work. Recorded over a decade, Lives Outgrown is essentially about metamorphoses, and Ovid does come to mind given that his narrative poem surveyed the “primal chaos” of what it is to live and die in this world, a world that had started to feel to the Portishead singer more about endings than beginnings – ”some endings are hard to digest”.

Lives Outgrown is powerful in its purpose, managing to be both clear and dewy-eyed, with the baroque Tell Me Who You Are Today – a track drenched in melancholic brilliance – setting the scene. Floating on a Moment recalls English pastoral but is married to a Sufjan Stevens-like warmth. Burden of Life is epic: there is such tenderness and violence in Gibbons’s voice amid gorgeous percussion and strings, stark and cascading, bringing to mind Homogenic-era Björk.

Lost Changes, with its airy, lilting guitar, is all sloping beauty. Rewind’s sharp and evocative guitars meet Reaching Out’s frantic rhythm and northern-soul flecks, with arrangements folding in choral and brass that conjure the ghost of the great Johnny Harris. Oceans’ cacophony of guitars underpin Gibbons’s weary vocal, confiding tales of ovulation and the complicated exhaustion that comes with a female body.

The folky, eastern-influenced For Sale is as weighty as its heavy-weather subject, with the rhythm and pacing taking us back centuries. The wobbly piano of Beyond the Sun adds a hazy quality to a well-wrought vision about confusion and devastation. It manages to be both joyful and moody, with the squall of instrumentation expanding into something that sounds like free jazz. Whispering Love almost mirrors Floating on a Moment tonally; with its flute, birdsong and skittering, soft percussion, it is rooted in a kind of peace, the kind one needs to still appreciate the “leaves of our tree of life where the summer sun always shines through the trees of wisdom”.


Lives Outgrown is that wisdom, and a deeply loving piece of work.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture