Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Beth Orton returns with breathtaking beauty on Weather Alive

"Weather Alive"

Release date: 23 September 2022
Beth Orton - Weather Alive cover
27 September 2022, 00:00 Written by Tom Williams

Beth Orton’s first two albums Trailer Park and Central Reservation proved her to be a serious force in the British folktronica scene - earning her nominations for the Mercury Prize Award and a win at the 2000 Brit Awards for Best Solo Female Artist.

But Orton struggled with the fallout from her newfound fame - she used alcohol and weed to cope with the stresses of touring and appeared visibly uncomfortable when asked to define her sound; her idiosyncrasies running at odds with the desires of the mainstream to reduce female artists to reductive, easily digestible labels.

On her eighth and newest album, Weather Alive, Orton sounds freer and more comfortable than she has at any other point in her career. Inspired by a soot-filled, second-hand piano - and aided by the newfound freetime Orton had while her children were in school - it is a warm, immersive LP whose wisdom unfolds gradually over repeat listens. It is her first self-produced album and, through no coincidence, happens to be far and away her best.

The title track is the album’s most definitive statement - a transcendent, percussive, 7+ minute epic grounded by Orton’s cracked, aching voice. Backed up by a full band, Orton’s musings on the everyday beauty of nature take on otherworldly significance. Towards the song’s end, Orton repeats the words “coming alive” almost half-a-dozen times, her voice gradually becoming buried under the song’s sublime arrangements; almost mirroring the feeling of going outside on a wet and windy day and feeling overcome by the elements.

Weather Alive isn’t just Orton’s best album, it’s also one that could have only come at this juncture in her life - as she nears the 26th anniversary of her breakthrough Trailer Park. There’s so much wisdom to be had listening to Orton’s eighth LP. On it, she alternates between mystifying poetry that evokes the bewilderment of the late David Berman’s lyricism (“Thought about living with nothing to lose / With windows to see them before they see you”) and straightforward confessionals and dialogue (“Why I feel like shit for what I didn’t do wrong?”). On “Haunted Satellite”, Orton pens the album’s most incisive line, in the form of a rich, evocative metaphor that speaks to the sense of displacement that swirls throughout Weather Alive (“I have lived as a satellite / I’ve saddled up, I’ve settled up, I don’t sit right”).

Never before have we been gifted with such multidimensional songwriting from Orton. Her parents - who both died when she was a teen - are given voice on the hauntingly desolate “Lonely”. After listing all the reasons she’s supposedly unloveable (“I’m a whore / I’m too exposed”), Orton repeats the titular word a devastating fifteen times - conjuring up all the horror and isolation of grief in the process. The following “Arms Around a Memory”, by contrast, is perhaps the loveliest song Orton has ever recorded. ”Didn’t we make a beautiful life / In your eighth floor walk-up that night”, she declares. Like PJ Harvey’s “You Said Something”, it captures the magic of love’s most intense moments - how it puts the rest of the world on pause and makes even the least remarkable of settings glow. Yet, rather than succumb wholly to nostalgia, Orton reflects with the benefit of hindsight - dissecting both the faulty nature of memories, as well as their ability to immortalise the purest moments of our lives. Here, the song gains real bite, as she snaps back at the song’s other protagonist: “And I've come to questioning my credibility / Like you’re the reliable witness to what I feel”, she snarls.

On “Friday Night”, Orton invokes the French writer Marcel Proust - best known for In Search of Lost Time; an extensive exploration of involuntary memory; the things which we unsuspectingly stumble upon only to find they bring back a flood of memories about our past. Much of Weather Alive revolves around this concept, as Orton stands back, slows down and lets the meaning of the world around her unfold. If Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, then, is widely regarded as a literary landmark, then Orton’s Weather Alive should too be held up as a similarly definitive artistic statement; a work of breathtaking beauty capable of connecting us more deeply to our truest selves and to the world around us.

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