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Music Review-- Beth Orton Central Reservation (Deconstruction/Arista)
In her native England, Beth Orton has been nicknamed the ‘Comedown Queen’ as she blends dreamy trip hop break beats with her folky guitar and haunting vocals. In short, she’s the perfect soundtrack for the club kids to sober up to after a night of hardcore raving. Indeed Central Reservation, her second full length album to be released in the US, is the best album to decompress to since Air’s Moon Safari.
Following her critically acclaimed 1997 debut Trailer Park, and 1998’s EP Best Bit, Central Reservation sees Orton delve into new territory, musically. While she still employs her unique blend of trip-folk on a few tracks, much of the album is stripped down and full of more raw emotion than we’ve seen. Orton relies less on the dots and loops of Trailer Park and has matured as a songwriter.
"Sweetest Decline" is a languid and achingly beautiful track with sweeping string arrangements and a quietly maudlin piano played by Doctor John that recall both The Carpenters and Burt Bacharach, though without a hint of the kitschy irony that has swirled around those artists of late.
On the flip side, the first single "Stolen Car" rocks a bit more than Orton’s typical fare and uses looped tracks and a trippy "Tomorrow Never Knows"-esque guitar that propels her sound into places it hasn’t gone before. "Couldn’t Cause Me Harm" sounds a bit like the sequel to "Galaxy Of Emptiness" from Trailer Park, but with an optimistic refrain of "It’s Gonna Be All Right/It’s Gonna Be All Right."
The title track, "Central Reservation" is a winding and dreamy slip of a song driven by Orton’s honest lilt and turns up again at the end of the album in the form of a dance remix by Everything But the Girl’s Ben Watt. By adding a backing track and synthesized beats and speeding up the vocals a bit, the song is given an entirely new spin and returns to Orton’s roots in dance music. Watt also had a hand in mixing the track "Stars All Seem to Weep."
With Central Reservation, Beth Orton has evolved into a formidable talent. Her songwriting is stronger than ever, and you can really see the evolution of it when you note how it’s progressed through Trailer Park, Best Bit and the current album. She is more personally invested in her lyrics, which make the songs more poignant and relevant. So if it’s 2:30 am on a Saturday night and you’ve returned from a long night of partying, but aren’t quite ready to pass out yet, pop Central Reservation into your stereo and let it swirl around you and slip into a dreamy state of unconsciousness.