City Paper is not for tourists
Hopes for the second album from Bristol’s Portishead were high. Its first, ’94’s Dummy, sold 2 million copies, secured record-of-the-year raves, and left countless lazy critics muttering about “triphop.” The group, perhaps made overly self-conscious by these expectations, scrapped an entire album and started over before producing this self-titled follow-up. But the shadowy outfit’s time has been well spent. The way the group’s members work, a lot of time is just what they needed. Hiphop DJ Geoff Barrow, jazz guitarist Adrian Utley, and engineer Dave McDonald arduously created Portishead’s eerie pieces by cutting their own rhythm loops, recording strings, horns, and group jams to vinyl to give them some crackle, then recording them back to tape and twisting Beth Gibbons’ darkly beautiful voice on top of it all. Portishead is scratchy and vaguely familiar, like a beat-up ’60s soundtrack album, but emotional and artfully discordant. Unlike fellow traveler Tricky’s Pre-Millennium Tension, a paranoid return to the womb, Portishead’s claustrophobic disc is full of sharp edges and hard angles. The group could merely create sinister spy-film soundtracks, combining hiphop beats with sweeping symphonics and moments from a closetful of (tortured) soul singles, but it goes much further. Gibbons’ desperate and forlorn lyrics, the music’s haunting dissonance, and the intricately distorted production conspire to make Portishead an extreme album worth an extreme wait.