Portishead
Portishead


4.0
excellent

Review

by Michael Freitag USER (5 Reviews)
December 28th, 2006 | 42 replies | 17,532 views


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A solid Trip Hop album with many interesting and memorable songs. Beth Gibbons melts the listener's heart, while certain elements fall short in favor of slow moodiness.

4 of 4 thought this review was well written

Please, I beg of you Trip Hop fans not to lynch me. I'm going to get this out of the way right now:

I've never heard Dummy.

I know, I know, I'm a terrible human being, but I cannot recall hearing a single track from the album, and I'm reviewing Portishead's self-titled sophomore album without having the reference of their so-called "brilliant" and "classic" debut. I won't have any snarky comments comparing the two, or have any backdrop of thinly-veiled disappointment that Portishead isn't quite another Dummy.

Oh, well. Too bad, I guess.

If Dummy is as truly impressive as the general populace would lead me to believe, then it's likely that I'll also feel that Portishead is not quite the follow-up album that we were all hoping for, but I would also feel confident in saying that it's quite good on its own. I'm certainly no expert on Trip-Hop, but I know what I like, and Portishead almost never refuse to give it to me. In particular, I'm enamored with frontwoman Beth Gibbons' startling voice, as it slides easily in and out of any mode of singing that she desires to fit the song. From her childlike crooning on "All Mine", to the heart wrenching wails of "Only You", and the vague creepiness of the distorted "Half Day Closing" and dark "Humming", she modulates her voice effortlessly and effectively, making her the perfect centerpiece and focal point of the group. Everything else seems to be revolved around her participation, almost as if the music were composed to heighten the effect of what she's capable of. Gibbons' works the emotions of the listener, wrapping you around her finger and twisting with motions of sorrow, bitterness, regret, and once in a while anger.

Further to the credit of the band, there are certain tracks on this album that truly are quite stellar. "Only You" and "Humming" are my two lasting favorites, one being a crisp, Rhodes-inflected, and almost bouncy little ode of longing, the other a haunted homage to film noir and men in fedoras walking down back alleys with girls in luxurious gowns looking out into the rain after them with bored looks on their faces. "All Mine" is a lot of fun to listen to, as it bends rules of tonality with almost unnoticed ease - you shouldn't be allowed to follow a tonic Eb minor with a big old D minor chord, but that's the basis of the song, and I'll be damned if it doesn't sound great. The unique duality of "Elysium", split between its driving thumps and slow piano/guitar section, also finds a new level of snarl in Gibbons' voice, and is a long, impressive work that finely balances many of the better elements of Portishead.

As much as I enjoy the individual songs on the album, I'm the type of person that likes to listen to an album in one sitting, taking in all of the subtleties and less obvious intent through the album experience. Despite that I have certain tracks in mind that I'm really aching to hear when I listen to the album, I often find myself listening to every track without skipping any. There is a pleasant level of variety throughout the album, which keeps the listener's ear attentive - each song is a departure from the last right from the very beginning. "Cowboys" works as a moderately intense opener, immediately demanding the listener's attention, while the next, "All Mine", is a sexy number reminiscent of James Bond theme music. The album takes an overtly darker turn afterwards, particularly notable in the run of "Over" through "Seven Months", and comes back up a bit for "Only You". This is not to say the flow is perfect - "Elysium" drives towards the closer, then stops off for the sparse, slow "Western Eyes", which almost doesn't work.

As far as their Hip-Hop influences go, Portishead do many things right, but get stuck in a bit of a rhythmic rut within the framework of individual songs. "Only You" is one of the very few tracks to escape a fairly routine percussion track, but if I had to register any complaints against perennial favorites like "Humming", it would be the rather stale drum tracks that plague otherwise excellent songs. On certain tracks, particularly "Mourning Air" and "Half Day Closing", the bassist sets a nice groove for the song, which is pleasantly offset by the simple drum work, but often his contribution is minimal during moments where a nice bass lick would've spiced up the album nicely. It seems that the band have sacrificed some elements of musicality in favor of mood, crafting interesting sonic atmospheres that sometimes run a bit thin due to oversimplification. The other issue is one of pacing - Portishead has a very good flow from start to finish, but it does drag somewhat as essentially all of the songs are downtempo, somewhat ambient and minor key - for the active listener, this lack of diversity in meter and velocity becomes a bit boring over time. The album moves at the pace of syrup going down a shallow incline - you know it's moving, but it's a bit frustrating that it isn't getting to its destination fast enough. The album is only 50 minutes long, but it feels much, much longer while you're listening to it. The album's intensity really only exists towards the start and end, with "Cowboys" and "Elysium" in particular providing the relative pushes of momentum, even though the push at the end of the album peters out into "Western Eyes", which is way too lackluster for its own good.

Despite its flaws, Portishead still comes out on top, with some beautiful results and very memorable songs all across the album, and barely any failures. In that way, it's a very solid effort, and very listenable, particularly for the patient. If you're willing to wait a bit, the rewards are worth the effort, and this album will likely grow on you.


user ratings (652)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (3.5)
For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 33)...

SigismundFreudian (5)
Portishead takes us on a Space Odyssey....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Spectrum
December 28th 2006



347 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Man, I really should read my reviews more thoroughly before I submit them. Or not write them at 3 in the morning. I can do so much better than this.
What's done is done, I guess =/

Zmev
December 28th 2006



983 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Gibbons has a beautiful voice, her and Orton are my favorite female singer Beths in music.

Dummy > This but this is still great, and so is the review.This Message Edited On 12.28.06

Phil
December 28th 2006



1473 Comments


Darn, I was going to review this but mine would be very different. I really dont like it. Dummy is so so much better then this one. A counter review will be up from soon then.

LF96
December 28th 2006



97 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very good review, good work. You should hear Dummy though, if you like this you'll love that one.
I agree with the rating and the criticising of not enough variety. "Over" is the best track on the album in my opinion.This Message Edited On 12.28.06

rmgebhardt
December 28th 2006



32 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This wasn't nearly as amazing as Dummy, but it definitely holds its own in the trip hop arena. Everything Orton touches is usually gold.

Two-Headed Boy
December 28th 2006



4527 Comments


Yeah haven't heard this, but get Dummy on the double.

Nice work.

The Jungler
December 28th 2006



4827 Comments


I too need to hear Dummy

tom79
December 28th 2006



3363 Comments


You should probably change the release date from 2006 to the right one, 1997...This Message Edited On 12.28.06

Digging: Braid - No Coast

Zebra
Moderator
December 28th 2006



2647 Comments


If this is even close to being as good as Dummy then I won't hesitate to pick this up. Great review.

Iai
Emeritus
December 28th 2006



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This gets hated on too much by a lot of people.

Spectrum
December 28th 2006



347 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Guess the review didn't suck as much as I thought it did.

I'm grabbing Dummy as we speak, hopefully I'll have it soon.

AnyColour74
December 28th 2006



1054 Comments


Get Dummy. Like now. Portishead is so awesome.

Spectrum
December 29th 2006



347 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oh, and philly, I can't wait to read your counter-review. I want to see your opinions, maybe start a fig- intellectual debate :D
I'll have Dummy by the time I wake up in the morning. I just got Roseland NYC Live, so I'll be reviewing that soon as well.

Phil
December 29th 2006



1473 Comments


I'll probably listen to it again tonight and see if I still think that way. So it may be up in the next few days depending if I still dont like it.

Phil
December 29th 2006



1473 Comments


I re-listened to it and its not as bad as I thought it was. Still not as good as Dummy. Its mainly the production which is pretty crappy but it does add a certain atmosphere in to the songs.

Neoteric
December 29th 2006



3243 Comments


I've heard Only You from this and it sounds wonderful.

Metalikane
November 1st 2007



851 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Better than Dummy imo.

Lilley
April 11th 2008



19 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Don't worry, I haven't heard Dummy either, but I certainly plan to.

MasterSan
April 12th 2008



113 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Portishead = Dummy, quality-wise. And consistency-wise.

SonicPixie
April 20th 2008



11 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is definately an underrated album. I only got into trip-hop recently (partly thanks to this site- I am absolutely loving "Entroducing" and "Mezzanine" right now). I'm loving both Dummy and the self-titled album. Right now I prefer Portishead over Dummy. It isn't as immediate or as accessible as Dummy, it definately takes more listens. But I feel it was a lot more rewarding - its even more atmospheric and more eerie than Dummy. I guess I just love the darker vibes at the moment.
I give both albums 4.5/5. I hear the new album is good but I won't be getting that for a while - got to much music to catch-up with!



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2013 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy