Review Summary: Portugal. The Man have made their best album since their debut.
There has been, in the scene, some debate as to just where the hell Portugal. The Man fit in. John Gourley's workaholic band's first album, the superb Waiter: You Vultures! was this anomaly - an antithetical, almost minimalistic piece of work that went against many of the current scene trends, while still being a weird, distant part of it. It was a quiet, almost wimpy
album, with Gourley's light vocals on top of everything, and in a scene where everyone was trying to scream louder and play faster, Portugal. The Man's creative rock came out of left field. Next came Church Mouth, which couldn't have been more unexpected. A loud, fuzzy RAWK album, it, in the words of Nick Greer, "tried to bring the rock'n'roll to indie and failed." That was partly true - Church Mouth didn't live up to Waiter's standards - but it was still a reasonably good album. And then there was 2008's Censored Colors, Gourley's self-proclaimed tribute to The Beatles. Censored Colors was great, if a little too much at times, with jangly piano and choirs in addition to the band's creativity with more traditional rock instruments.
The point of all that was to stress the fact that however good or bad their previous three albums have been, Portugal. The Man have basically reinvented themselves for each release. Now, just one year after the release of Censored Colors, we have the oddly titled The Satanic Satanist, and for the first time, it feels like Portugal. The Man have finally settled down into an amalgamation of their previous sounds. This isn't a bad thing; quite the contrary, actually. The Satanic Satanist is their best album since Waiter: You Vultures! It's got the riffs of Church Mouth without the fuzz; they are instead treated with a bluesy clarity, adorned with the volume that was sometimes lacking on Waiter, which had production that seemed oddly quiet at times. (Remember how frustrating the "loud" parts in "Stables & Chairs" were when they just didn't seem loud
enough?) And for anyone who found the fifteen tracks of Censored Colors a bit too much to take in one sitting, The Satanic Satanist remedies that eleven songs in just under thirty-five minutes.
John Gourley's vocal performance is nothing short of amazing. At long last, he sounds like a confident and competent vocalist, and his voice has finally been given the volume it deserves, dominating the music. Furthermore, he comes through with some of his most accomplished melodies yet; the descending bridge of "Lovers In Love" is one of the album's catchiest moments (assisted by some great, creative bass playing), and at the end of "Mornings," The Satanic Satanist's best song, when Gourley's voice slides into the upper register, it is a supremely affecting musical moment. For the past few years, Portugal. The Man have seemed simply to be a fun band, but with this album, they have presented an emotional work of art. The music is, as ever, varied and interesting. The Satanic Satanist is a guitar-centric album and it is all the better for it, as Gourley has a unique knack for riffs and leads. The musical standout is "People Say," and the positives that can be said about that song can be said about the entire album - bluesy yet still involved, clean-toned yet still gloriously loud. Portugal. The Man have made their best album since their debut.
And it has to be said, the packaging is amazing. Buy this if you've got the money.