982 - Beth Orton 'Central Reservation' (1999)

My Rating: 1.92 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 17/--

Favourite Tracks: Sweetest Decline, Central Reservation (Ben Watt Mix)
Least-Favourite Tracks: Pass In Time, Feel To Believe

According to CDNOW's review of this album Beth Orton's voice 'aches and yearns, caressing the ears like a worn, wool mitten on a winter day.' Hmmmm. I'd say her voice was more like scraping the ears with a brillo pad soaked in paint stripper. On a very cold winter day.

I was so dumbfounded when I read that review, that I wondered whether I'd actually listened to the right album. I seriously went back & played the whole thing again through a different music system. After that I concluded that it must have been just the lone ravings of a crazed mitten-fetishist, but hang on, over at Allmusic we discover that 'the focal point is Orton's evocatively soulful voice' & down at Amazon that 'she's blessed with the rich, warm voice of a true pop singer'. I mean, is it just me or do we have a serious case of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' here? Because all I could think of was what a great album this would be if it was performed by someone who could actually sing.

When Orton keeps it laidback she sounds ok, but as soon as she starts pushing her voice it really starts to grate. She has a tendency to go very flat & then hits this thin, reedy tone like one of those toy plastic saxophones that occasionally swells to a full nails-down-the-blackboard screech. Dont believe me? Listen to Couldn't Cause Me Harm or Feel To Believe & tell me that I've got it all wrong. It's a shame because both the music and lyrics are really very good. It's a mellow, organic sounding record that often reminded me of Everything But The Girl (if only Tracey Thorn was singing it). Perhaps one of the problems is that Orton's piercing vocals just sound so incongruous over such gentle music. There's some excellent arrangements too, with melancholic strings & shimmering vibraphones, but for me everything was just overshadowed by those vocals.


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