Made Of Love
, July 18th, 2012 08:00
Bethia Beadman, whose debut album is full of barely-controlled hysteria, romance, lust and an alluring blend of artful enigma and hippie soul, has a fabulous life story. You kind of hope it's all true, though if it isn't, that's fine too. It seems she grew up in an underground grotto, began writing songs in her teens, got a Theology and Sanskrit degree from Cambridge, travelled far and wide, heard that Courtney Love was auditioning for a piano player and thus spent time in LA and touring the world as a member of Hole. She sang in the Vatican, supported Pete Doherty, and worked in a big studio so that she could blag recording time for her own album. This is it. At this year's Cannes film festival, her video for 'Fire' – very David Lynch, though one wishes there were a different shorthand for offbeat, stylish and erotic - won Best Music Video. I've seen her sing live in a small church – Dominic West from The Wire was there, we didn't notice - and the concert was both intimate and epic.
Yet not too many people seem to have heard of her, which is odd when you consider all the non-stars who are jammed down our throats by the publicity industry. Perhaps the official (self-) release of Made Of Love (or, if not, the already-recorded 2013 follow-up) will help to rectify that. Like all the best debuts, it's a little weird, a little off, a little too big for its shape, made without undue concern for the outside world.
While there are, within her unique, impassioned voice, flecks of both the poetic-confessional strain (early Patti Smith through early PJ Harvey) and the arch, studied cool school (Lana Del Rey), there is something wonderfully unhinged about it. With all its fire and honey it can trot out those tropes but generally chooses not to, instead hanging just above and slyly beneath the predictable melody, as likely to go Laurel Canyon as go Mahalia Jackson or Diamanda Galas. Not every song here is great; one or two don't transcend their earnest blues-folk roots, but she makes them seem to.
Some of them are great, and in diverse ways, which is part of what's so interesting. 'Deaf And Dumb' instantly pulls you in, its irrational candour both unsettling and balmy. 'Glow Baby Glow' is a break-out show-stopper, dressing guitars inspired by Neil Young's Crazy Horse or Mazzy Star with a vocal alternating between breathy siren and Cassandra-in-ecstasy-at-the-prospect-of-imminent-doom.
'Homerton Station', by contrast, is a languid gospel "woo-hoo" paean to - of all places – Homerton Station, in Hackney. "I love this town", she swoons. Like many of you, I've been to Homerton Station, and it didn't make me want to write an enraptured song, so there is something of WB Yeats' "lightning flash" about the fact that she had an epiphany there. On the arresting 'How I Love You', a dash of alt-rock/Hole influence comes out, testifying over rumbling guitar dynamics. 'Woman Of Day' gets a bit 'Morning Is Broken' while, I think, pondering the seven ages of woman.
On the title track Bethia Beadman is part priestess, part posture, channelling Laura Nyro and 'Harvest', again keenly skirting the fringes of the melody like a modern-day Mary Margaret O'Hara, a grace note lingering as the music ends…
As a whole, the record swirls like a sometimes troubled, sometimes joyful well, with dark things but also shiny things swimming in it. It creates its own drama, its own universe, the first prerequisite of an artist who's going to be better than the herd who are line-drawing others' pre-worn worlds. Maybe progress for her could involve relaxing the unpretentious keeping-it-real honesty, and allowing fantasy to reign. Essaying the more vampish it's-all-in-the-eyes-of-the-music cinematic pop-mystery suggested in the 'Fire' video. But that probably says more about my tastes than hers. Bethia Beadman has true talent, the rare kind that you notice in a crowd. It's growing of its own volition, and has something feral and elemental about it.