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Portishead – Dummy (1994)

January 11, 2014

[Album 276/1001]220px-Portishead_-_Dummy

Albums like Dummy are meant to be listened to, not just heard.

After 1 spin (or whatever the equivalent term is for a cassette?), it seemed like 11 variations on the same song.  All just a bit too dreary for my liking.  Too dreary for a guy who lives for The Smiths/The Cure/Radiohead.

Which is why I insist on multiple plays of each album for this project.

If I instantly like something, there’s a chance its appeal will wear thin on repeated play throughs; not always, but something worth checking.

Conversely, not all records get progressively better, but many are like coffee; Portishead’s debut is one of those acquired tastes.

Portishead is credited with bringing the genre of ‘trip hop’ to the mainstream.  I at least knew that genre label, remembered the band name, and recognized a song or two but I may have to plead geographic location for not being more familiar from the outset.

It appears this one was (yet) another album that was ridiculously successful in the UK but more of a modest success in Canada.  After my reviews this month of debuts by Supergrass & The Thrills unintentionally fit the same description, I guess a new theme is emerging!

As Dummy kept re-entering the rotation, I kept thinking “oh ______ here remind(s) me of ________”
– The intro to Roads, the backing for The Fugees‘s Ready Or Not
– Vocalist Beth Gibbons, From The Choirgirl Hotel-era Tori Amos at times and Madonna’s darker stuff on Ray of Light at others.  
– The spooky sounds, Blur’s 1997 eponymous album (talk about a record that rewards re-listening), specifically Death of a Party.

In each case, I eventually realized Dummy arrived first, so I suppose I should say they all now remind me of Portishead.

If you can listen to Sour Times and stop yourself from wailing, “Nobody loves me, it’s true,” I admire your self-restraint.  I also quite enjoy the Biscuit bass line.

Much like the Vanessa Williams ballad, Portishead went and saved the best for last: Glory Box ends the album with style.

I picture the song being used as the soundtrack at the end of a Hollywood thriller, featuring some sort of Femme Fatale.  After a big reveal at the end (something as significant as the twist ending of say, The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense), the camera pans out as the girl walks away.  At night, in the rain, to an uncertain future.  My initial vision cast Emma Stone (in a critically acclaimed, career-defining role no less) but I’m of course open to suggestions.

There’s the seed of an idea at least: when it inevitably becomes a wildly successful film, you heard it here first!

From → 1990s

  1. My introduction to Dummy was thanks to MuchMusic. They did a show on the Bristol music scene in the UK, which includes such acts as Massive Attack, Tricky, and of course, Portishead. Portishead’s song, Numb got quite a bit of airplay on MM and the video fascinated and disturbed me. The song, however, was hauntingly beautiful. It was that song that got me to buy the album. No one around me liked their music at all. It wasn’t until the last 5 years or so when people I know are saying, “hey, you ever hear of Portishead?” The same people who are into the XX, and such bands.

    • Massive Attack & Tricky both have albums on the 1001, another two groups I’m aware of, but couldn’t tell you any songs. The XX’s debut is in a newer version of the 1001 book but I’m sticking to the 2005 edition, otherwise I don’t think I’d ever finish! That one I’ve heard and enjoyed, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the xx grew up listening to Portishead.

      I think as a 12/13-year old I wouldn’t have been ready for Portishead. At that stage of life I think I would have found it a bit bemusing – it’s a band, where are the guitars???

      Hauntingly is a good adverb to describe a lot of the album – her mysterious voice combined with the slow grooves, eerie music, a really addictive combination.

      • Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” is instantly recognizable (you’ll know when you hear it.) Sort of like Alison Moyet’s (Situation – Yaz) laugh sampled in songs.

      • As you predicted, both are definitely familiar!

  2. Love that album. In 1995-96, although you’d never hear it on the radio, you could hear it in cafés/record stores in Montréal, and of course, in people’s houses (like mine). Is the live album on your list (Roseland NYC Live)? This is one great live performance with orchestra.

  3. Portishead has been saving my life in the last few weeks, so freakin’ amazing! I bought Dummy while I was working in a music store in Austin because I thought the cover of the cd looked interesting, hooked ever since…

    • With this project, one of the big tests of an album is how often I replay it. I kept gravitating back to Dummy, the combo of the slow groove/Beth’s voice, very addictive!

  4. Loved this in high school. Beautiful.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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