November 09, 2003

Beth Orton "The Other Side of Daybreak"

Press is sometimes a funny thing. A bad review--especially an unexpected bad review--can often leave you puzzled; after all, what happened? Why did the record not connect? What was it that was done wrong, and why did the critics think it was a bad record? It can be extremely frustrating. I'm sure it was extremely frustrating for those in Beth Orton's camp, when she released the lovely yet underwhelming Daybreaker. It was a collection of pretty albeit more traditional singer/songwriter folk, and it didn't contain as much of that special electronica-based spark that her previous albums offered.

So, perhaps to spare the album an untimely death, The Other Side of Daybreak was born. This collection compiles the B-sides from Daybreaker's singles, with remixes and live tracks and a few unreleased nuggets to boot. It's an interesting idea, to be sure. Sure, there are moments that are totally beautiful acoustic folk, such as her moving cover of "Ooh Child," a live, acoustic version of "Conrete Sky," and the would-have-been lost "Ali's Waltz." Then there's "Beautiful World" and "Bobby Gentry," which mix up her more electronic side with the prettier, tender moments that she's always excelled at.

It's those electronic moments that make The Other Side of Daybreak fascinating. Though they're remixes, they still reinvent the songs from Daybreaker, making you rethink what you heard and dismissed. Two remixes by Four Tet, "Daybreaker" and "Carmella" are highlights, but the Roots Manuva version of "Daybreaker" seems to be the most fascinating, as it adds a hip-hop beat and an additional vocalist--a rapper, though his rap is actually rather crude, compared to the beauty of her song. These remixes run the range of using her voice as an incidental sample, to simply changing the beat up, and they're all fascinating, even if some of them don't make you think 'Beth Orton.'

While Daybreaker might not have been the satisfactory album for Orton fans, The Other Side of Daybreak seems to concede that the direction she chose. It's a bit disheartening, though, to think that such a reaction would cause a label to quickly compile an alternate version of the album, with the kind of songs that were expected of her. Still, maybe this is a lesson learned--a pretty terrible lesson, mind you, that you shouldn't give the fans something new, and though there's a feeling of defeat, The Other Side of Daybreak is still a lovely collection.

--Joseph Kyle

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