Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 33)
Geez, I thought Dummy
was a cold album. Apparently Portishead spent the interim between their first and second albums in Siberia with a couple canisters of liquid nitrogen handy because Portishead
has ice sliced in its veins. Beth Gibbons in particular sounds like she’s crunching icicles between her teeth here, singing with enough chilly menace and venom to make Dummy
look like an Aruba getaway. Portishead’s self-titled sophomore effort finds the band rising from their depressed stupor and advancing on their foes with teeth bared.
emphasized bass to make loneliness feel plush, Portishead
uses treble to mimic it’s knife edge. “Cowboys” makes Portishead’s newfound sense of aggression crystal clear from second one as an ominous sample spells doom long before the singing starts. "Did you sweep us far from your feet"/Reset in stone this stark belief,” seethes Gibbons, “Salted eyes and a sordid dye/Too many years.” She renders each word in a hissing accent, each word escapes her teeth like she’s been planning every letter from a prison cell. “Only You” finds Gibbons huffing the oh so Portisheady “We suffer every day/What is it for"/These crowns of illusion are fooling us all”. Portishead
features a greater use of self sampling - which is the band making music, laying it to tape, and sampling it – than Dummy
, lending the album a further sense of icy detachment due to its samples not existing outside the album.
benefits from having a clear songwriting focus it wants for the standout singles of Dummy
and feels flatter as a result. Without an “It Could Be Sweet” or “It’s a Fire” as a reprive from the metallic heartbreak, Portishead
can become tiring around the midway mark. Nonetheless, Portishead
is a solid entry into the fascinating subgenre of trip-hop, a genre that would see one more defining work before the end of the decade.