Last September, I put up a posting fawning about the single Glory Box by Portishead. The posting had been inspired by the fact that the single had come up on i-pod shuffle for the first time in years and given me a big ‘wow’ moment.
I stumbled across a post at the old blog from March 2013 which was looking back at the LP Dummy……………………..
…………………There’s something really special about Dummy, the 1994 debut LP by Portishead that they never, in my humble opinion, ever came close to capturing again. Which means that outwith the debut LP, there’s nothing more than a couple of later singles on the shelves.
I can pinpoint when I began to fall out of love with Portishead – it was May 1995 when I went to see them live in Edinburgh. It was a really hot ticket. The band were probably the most talked about new act in the UK at the time and every review said they were a sensational live experience. Maybe I caught them on a bad night. But the gig was one of the most boring I’d ever been to and I came away very disappointed. Dummy, having been a record I couldn’t stop listening to, became associated with a major let down. But I’ve picked it up again in recent weeks and found myself really appreciating it.
It’s no surprise really that it has sold more than 800,000 copies in the UK alone. Critics fawned over it and it was one of the first records that I can recall the UK mainstream newspapers and magazines going completely ga-ga for. This was atypical:-
“Dummy mixes cocktail keyboards, spaghetti-western guitars, eerie tape loops, and dub-wise rhythms into what could be called `acid cabaret’….as musically compelling as it is emotionally chilling.”
OK…I’ll take a wee risk here with my next sentence…..
One of the reasons Dummy was a huge hit was because it was hip-hop,dub and soul for the white middle-classes.
There was no swearing, there were no loud unexpected passages of music, there was no political message being preached and it meandered along at a pace that was perfect background music while the chattering classes had their dinner parties. Going by that sort of description Dummy should be an LP that is bland, conservative, shallow and lacking passion. But one listen and you’ll see that it’s anything but.
Much of this is down to Beth Gibbons. It’s a very laid back and relaxed vocal all the way through the album.Very rarely does she strain for notes the way that many female vocalists think is the only way to demonstrate that they have soul……there are times it sounds as if she has just picked up the lyric sheet and is not yet able to familiarise herself with the words. But her performance is absolutely flawless. And a perfect fit to the music.