Portishead – Dummy (1994)
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!