Beth Orton: Comfort Of Strangers

Hip ’90s folkie edges ever closer to the coffee table

Harsh though they may seem, the whispers are that 10 years on from her debut album, ‘Trailer Park’, Beth Orton has now become a kind of Dido it’s OK to like. Maybe not such a bad thing: her previous badge-of-cool collaborators (The Chemical Brothers) are now nothing more than a washed-up nostalgia act, while credibility-wise Radio 2 has bucked up its ideas sufficiently since the mid-’90s to now provide an audience for folkie singer/songwriters who are trendier than Tunstall yet not quite as barmy as Banhart.

Of course, aside from her voice’s undeniable, slightly husky-yet-soothing quality, Orton’s songwriting has always been left of centre and her fourth album is no exception. Wistful opener ‘Worms’ borrows its rhythm from, of all things, Queen’s ‘Killer Queen’; ‘Rectify’ twists and turns all over the shop, while you somehow doubt that a song called ‘Absinthe’ would ever permeate a Katie Melua tracklist. But the sad fact is that elsewhere, on the likes of the title track and ‘Safe In Your Arms’ there’s simply too much finger-picking and lyrics that concern relationship ‘issues’ of the adult-shopping-in-IKEA variety. Maybe Beth Orton, unlike some of her still-desperate-for-kudos contemporaries, is merely growing old gracefully, but clearly gracefully aging doesn’t necessarily make for great records.

Hamish MacBain