Beth Orton – Trailer Park (Legacy Edition) [reissue]

January 01, 1970




More than a dozen years after it won the Mercury Music
Prize, Beth Orton’s debut still sounds fresh and vibrant. When it arrived in
’96, fresh on the heels of her work with the Chemical Brothers, the blend of
traditionally folk singer/songwriter fare and atmospheric electronic skitter
gave it a groundbreaking imprimatur, but looking back, the power of the songs
seems at least as responsible for the critical genuflection. Though generally
regarded as Orton’s debut, it actually followed a ’93 Japan-only release, SuperPinkyMandy, helmed by
then-boyfriend, William Orbit and featuring an early version of Trailer Park
opening track, “She Cries Your Name.”


It’s Orton’s personality that grounds the effort, her
bruised resilience offering an island of soul in the stream of burbling
shimmer. Indeed it’s the ambient-inflected watercolors of epic tracks like
“Tangent,” “Touch Me With Your Love” and the closer “Galaxy of Emptiness” that in
retrospect seem most extraneous, a fact Orton may have realized herself
considering her steady move away from overweening electronic textures across
her subsequent three albums. While the otherworldy drift of “Tangent” offers a
nice counterpart to Orton’s choral assertion, “it’s just like coming home,” it
comes off as stilted instead of revolutionary. Better are the subtle touches
like the jungle beat underlying the bright-skied folk jangle of “Someone’s
Daughter,”  or the wavering synth in the
background of “Live As You Dream” and “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine.”


Though populated with break-up songs, it doesn’t feel
maudlin. While the cover “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine” perhaps qualifies,
by the time we arrive, Orton’s proved she’s no shrinking violet, making the
sunshine/rain metaphor that much more palatable (abetted in no small part by
Orton’s gorgeous vocals). She’s already confided her faith (on “Don’t Need a
Reason”) that even amidst the pain we cause those that love us, “you’re going
to get all that you deserve, and all that you believe in,” which comes across
as much a challenge as an assurance. “Live as You Dream” offers a similarly
bittersweet hope – “we live as we dream – alone,” before confessing her own
limitations: “If you’ve taken me as someone who cares, well that’s a dream I
know we both have shared.”


The whole album reads like a struggle to steer clear of
cynicism and self-pity even amidst the relational wreckage the surrounds us.
Nowhere is it better expressed than “How Far,” in which she asserts, “with each
and every circumstance, I lose knowledge and gain innocence, you won’t find me


The remastered release sounds wonderful and brings
additional fidelity to the at times string-enriched tone and crisp separation
for the many quieter, more austere tracks. What most will be interested in,
however, is the second disc, which compiles a multitude of non-album tracks
released around that time, including the Best
EP, a handful of terrific tunes salted away on the “She Cries Your Name”
and “Touch Me With Your Love” singles, and a couple covers and unreleased


As good as Trailer
is, it’s difficult to understand the exclusion of “It’s Not the Spotlight,”
a pretty solo acoustic cover of the Rod Stewart track (written by Gerry Goffin
and Barry Goldberg) that attempts to anaesthetize the pain of a breakup by
dismissing the light it once held for her as a fantasy. Previously available on
the 2003 best-of Pass In Time, it’s a poignant bit of
soul-baring that highlights her evocative voice. It’s equaled by the very
different “Best Bit” which delivers a funky rock groove that separates Orton
from her Joni Mitchell-predilections in favor of a more visceral, dynamic
approach. It’s accompanied by a very different and busier early version of the
song whose strong cello presence gives it an odd, arty lilt. A live version of
“Galaxy of Emptiness” shears the original of its electronic excess,
demonstrating Orton’s earthier performance style. The two tracks with Terry
Callier (Fred Neil’s “Dolphins,” “Lean on Me”) showcase her fine duet vocals,
though they possess a lingering ‘70s soft rock ambience that some may find
off-putting. “Skimming Stone” proffers piano jazz on a journey into space,
while her cover of Evie Sands’ “It’s This I am I Find” offers a sterling clinic
on Orton’s use of electronics to embellish and enrich a comely laconic melody.


Though the quality of Orton’s work hasn’t diminished over
the years, it hasn’t seemed as surprising or revelatory since this album. The
reissue is a reminder of her talent and encouragement to revisit her catalog,
particularly her underappreciated last release, Comfort of Strangers, helping pimp anticipation for her fifth
release, due later this year.


Standout Tracks: “She
Calls Your Name,” “Best Bit,” “How Far” CHRIS PARKER


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