Thursday, June 2, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 7/22/09.

The success of 1994's Dummy brought the trip-hop group Portishead lots of attention and acclaim. A surprising commercial success in Britain while a cult hit in the U.S., the record won the group the prestigious Mercury Music prize beating such great recordings as Tricky's Maxinquaye, PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love, and Oasis' debut album Definitely Maybe. In 1996, the band took a break given that the members in vocalist Beth Gibbons, guitarist Adrian Utley, and programmer/multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow were not receptive of the attention they were getting. Finally in late 1996, the band returned to the studio to record their sophomore effort which was simply a self-titled release.

Produced and performed by Portishead with many songs written by the trio of Gibbons, Utley, and Barrow with two by Gibbons and Barrow and one that featuring samples of the Pharcyde and Ken Thorne. Portishead' self-titled release is a dark, hypnotic, moody record that has the band expanding their sound a bit with symphonic arrangements. Taking the trip-hop sound to more atmospheric textures than Dummy, it's a record that's less about pop hooks from acts like Sneaker Pimps but rather expand sounds and arrangements that makes it more about mood and soundscapes. The result is a brilliant follow-up from Portishead.

The album begins with Cowboys, an eerie song with blaring, wavy sirens that is followed by an array of sounds. With its smooth, swooning textures of synthesizers, bass, and tapping beats. Beth Gibbons' nasally, snarling vocals take charge with her despaired lyrics as it features ringing guitars and turntable scratches for an ominous tone that drives the song. The album's first single All Mine features blaring horn and string arrangements that is followed by a steady yet pummeling snare drum fill. With a smooth bass groove and Gibbons' soothing yet wailing vocal, it reaches a powerful note during the song's chorus. With soft, electronic textures in the background and Adrian Utley's shimmering guitar drones, it's a song rich in its presentation but with a dark feel that matches its ambition.

Undenied opens with Utley's soft, jazz-wash guitar and Geoff Barrow's melodic-synthesizers that is followed by an arrangements of groove-laden bass and soft, scratchy beats. With Gibbons singing in a calm, melancholic vocal style, it's a song filled with despaired lyrics and a presentation that is soothing yet brooding. Half Day Closing arrives with a slow, throbbing bass line and swooning synthesizers that sets the tone for track. With Gibbons' hollow vocals sung through a distorted mix, she's accompanied by it swooning presentation with an ominous snare fill as a melodic, distorted synthesizer track plays through. With its warbling vocal mix as Gibbons sings some high-pitch notes, it's one of the most eerie cuts on the record. Over arrives with soft, twangy guitar notes that plays to an arrangement of hollow keyboards and Gibbons' ethereal yet snarling vocals. With slow, thundering snare-like beats arriving, the song intensifies with its presentation and despairing lyrics that includes a frantic turntable scratch from Barrow.

Humming features an ominous sound that features a shimmering noise from a theremin that features warbling electronic swoons that plays through with slow, thumping beats. With its warbling synthesizer accompaniment, Gibbons' wailing, evocative vocals take control with its dark, melancholic lyrics. Featuring a thumping, jazz-like bass line and soothing string arrangements, it's a song revels in its creepy tone as the electronic arrangements intensify its tone. Mourning Air has a distorted, twangy guitar riff that plays up to a hollow tone with Gibbons' snarling, ethereal vocal playing up to its dark tone. With a throbbing bass line, hollow tap-like beats, and a jazz-like presentation, it's another track that plays up to the album's dark tone. Seven Months opens with Gibbons' snarling vocals with its wavy, creepy tone from its electronic arrangements and slow, mid-tempo beats. With Utley's droning guitar twangs and Barrow's hollow, ominous synthesizer/electronic arrangements, it's a song that is dramatic yet eerie.

The single Only You, which features samples of the Pharcyde's She Said and Ken Thorne's Inspector Clouseau, is a smooth yet atmospheric song. Led by Barrow's turntable scratches with the Pharcyde appearing in vocals as it's scratched through its throbbing rhythm of bass and tapping beats. It's Gibbons' vocals in its dramatic tone and melancholic vocals that take charge as it features horn samples while maintaining its dark tone. Elysium opens with a mix of scratchy electronics and guitar strums that later becomes a smooth, mid-tempo track with thumping beats and groove-laden bass lines. With Gibbons' nasally, snarling vocals, the song's creepy tone with ominous jazz piano tracks and menacing guitar riffs. The album closer Western Eyes, that features a sample of the Sean Atkins Experience's Hookers & Gin, starts off with a soft, swooning string arrangement in the background along with a piano accompaniment. With Gibbons' vocals in an ethereal, jazz-like presentation. It's a song that revels in melancholia as it features slow, sputtering beats and somber string arrangements with the piano playing to its melancholic tone. With turntable scratches featuring its sample, it closes with a jazz-like note.

Released in late September of 1997, the album drew rave reviews with many feeling that the band succeeded in not falling to the sophomore slump. With some saying it's better than Dummy, many critics agree that Portishead were truly one of the few acts in the trip-hop scene who can do the music better than anyone. The band toured to promote the record which included an appearance on Saturday Night Live to perform the single Only You. It was also around the same time that an appearance at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on July 1997, months before the album's release, was making waves that would spawn the band's next release in a live album called Roseland NYC Live.

Portishead's self-titled release is a brilliant, evocative record from the band. With a broader sound that includes more symphonic arrangements, hip-hop sound textures, and Beth Gibbons delving into more dramatic vocal ranges. It's a record that is different from Dummy but still has the debut's haunting yet mesmerizing presentation. It's an album that really delves into melodrama but not going too far as it's strong in its layered, atmospheric production and ethereal soundscapes. In the end, Portishead' self-titled release is truly a magnificent yet chilling album from the band.

Portishead Albums: Dummy - PNYC - Third

(C) thevoid99 2011

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