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With Dummy, their 1994 debut, Portishead not only created a classic of turntable-derived soul, but defined their sound so exhaustively as to spawn a host of imitators. So what to do for a follow-up? As it happened, the answer was simple--refine the template. This self-titled album simply ups the ante on everything that made their debut so special: the brooding sense of menace, that deep streak of romantic fatalism. Much is made of the cinematic quality of Portishead's music--and indeed, many of these tracks sound like they should be accompanying some existentialist spy flick from the mid-1960s. But ultimately, it's singer Beth Gibbons that's their greatest asset: her vocals gliding effortlessly from the furious ("Cowboys") to the forlorn ("Mourning Air"); from the exuberant ("All Mine") to the exhausted ("Only You")--and all set to the group's most ambitious and expansive arrangements to date. A majestic, damaged and frequently terrifying masterpiece. --Andrew McGuire
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Top Customer Reviews
"Did you feed us tales of deceit,/Conceal the tongues who need to speak?/Subtle lies and a soiled coin,/The truth is sold, the deal is done," Beth Gibbons intones, sounding like a slightly gleeful robot. That sets the tone for "Portishead," giving it a darker tone than its predecessor -- darker songs, darker vocals, darker music.
The jazz overtones are still there, bubbling up in songs like the distant "Over" and "Seven Months," which sounds strangely like fellow trip-hop artist Emiliana Torrini. Only the downtempo "Over" and softly poppy "Western Eyes" break from this cooler sound, sounding warm and unaltered. The rest of the album is a different story.
Somehow it adds to the noir atmosphere to have darker, colder sounds woven in with the jazzy trip-hop. "Humming" includes a strange background beat that sounds exactly as you would imagine a UFO. This dark, experimental edge makes it a bit harder to get into than their debut album, but when you do get into it, it's almost frighteningly intense.
The jazzy percussion is one of the first things you notice about this, paired with horns and thick synth. It's surprisingly heady to listen to. Also cold and distant -- which seems appropriate, since the simple lyrics focus on loneliness, melancholy, sadness and loss ("Why should I forgive you,/After all that I've seen,/Quietly whisper,/When my heart wants to scream?").Read more ›
1 Cowboys - Starts off with astoundingly echoed-out guitar, and goes from there into an extremely creepy and ugly "Twilight Zone" kind of vamp. Beth Gibbons' voice has been heavily bounced, and it makes her sound like a lounge singer on the world's worst hit of LSD. This is masterfully done.
2 All Mine - Worse and worse. Musically punchy, driven by loud horns, distorted guitar, and live drum and bass, but the lyrics are what make this song so incredibly unsettling. Gibbons has sketched out a narrative of a couple. One of the people involved has gone crashingly insane, and turns into a stalker. The stalker kidnaps his (or her) partner, ties them up, and that's how it stays "until the day I die", as Gibbons sings. Late night listening is not recommended.
3 Undenied - A soft and soothing keyboard drives this one, along with phased and looped drums. Almost like a lullaby, which is needed after "Cowboys" and "All Mine". But, rest assured, this doesn't last long. If this is already sounding like something that you wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, then don't touch it. This album is not for everyone.
4 Half Day Closing - This is a truly cruel psychedelic rant against...what?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Awesome record. Sounds great, just like its suppose to! Love Portishead!! Also love the cover picture. Cant wait to buy Dummy next.Published on Oct. 13 2013 by Hazrella
One of the best albums of the 1990's on top quality vinyl, how could you go wrong? It's not a long album and it's spread across two records, so you'll be flipping sides a lot (two... Read morePublished on Nov. 21 2011 by Mattdpnt
I turn on the CD player and I am wearing a slinky black dress, my mouth rouged with blood red lipstick, a trail of cigarette smoke wafts in the stale air, and I'm shadowed by a... Read morePublished on June 7 2004 by Baroness Von Grim
After an album like DUMMY, it appears it would be difficult to follow up such a great album. It took the group three years to come up with this second album, and it was worth the... Read morePublished on April 5 2004 by Jake Z
All I can say is welcome to the "Twilight Zone". Most anyone who knows their previous album "Dummy", can pretty much expect the same thing on... Read morePublished on March 8 2004 by H3@+h
melancholic, spooky, dreamy tunes into which the mind gently melts.
Less accessible than some would expect but more enduring if you give it a chance.
Portishead just have that dark class that you can never forget and can't ignore.
When I finally sat back and listened to this album I was thoroughly impressed. Read more