Beth Orton

Comfort of Strangers

Beth Orton has largely eschewed the spotlight during the four years since her last album, Daybreaker, making it all the more surprising that she spent just two weeks recording the follow-up, the startlingly minimalist Comfort of Strangers. It's an uncanny move, with producer Jim O'Rourke stripping down Orton's sound to its barest essentials, replacing her synthetic beats with quiet acoustic guitars and somber pianos, and it works, sort of. Orton's soulful wail is more than capable of carrying an entire album, as was made evident by 1999's Central Reservation, and Strangers achieves an unmistakable poignancy at times, particularly on the title track and the politically charged "Feral Children." Elsewhere, things tend to drag. Too often bereft of fleshed-out melodies and invigorating arrangements, this sounds like a hollow blueprint for an album -- a promising start, to be sure, but nothing more.

 
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