23rd FEBRUARY 2006 - BARROWLAND, GLASGOW, SCOTLAND
It's nice to be nice, someone erroneously once said. Beth Orton has taken this advice to heart at some point, obviously, as her whole career to date has been about fashioning pleasant, inoffensive, nice music such as this. How nice. But, my word, a whole night of undemanding, studiously bland music such as this can be a trial.
On her latest album, Comfort of Strangers, the former "queen of the comedown" (a title which, inaccurately, suggests there is something almost illicit about Ms Orton's somnambulate thrills) she and producer Jim O'Rourke have almost brought some light, vigour and shade to her heavy-lidded oeuvre. Here her best songs are these – Heartland Truckstop almost rocks, albeit in a slow, pleasant, way while the very Wilco-like Worms and Safe in Your Arms are lovely moments of the kind of country-pop she should produce more often. It is not that she has a poor voice, indeed it is truly lovely when she really lets rip at the end of the otherwise drippy Feral Children, and you wish others would write songs for Ms Orton that really tested her vocal and emotional range.
Ms Orton's band are tight and polite and on stage she is a happy, chirpy, full-voiced presence, but it is noticeable that her older songs, such as Someone's Daughter, not only receive the loudest cheers, but seem more cogent, concise and immediate.
It's been a while since Beth Orton really surprised us, and there was nothing surprising here: just her light, limited, thin palette of aural colours, pretty and inoffensive. It has been four years since her last album and, although no-one would expect her to come back as say, a metal-head, perhaps her many fans would have expected more than this very . . . nice, fare.