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Bristol band Portishead released their debut album Dummy in 1994, but I didn't hear it until a decade later, when one of my friends had it at university. Haunting and atmospheric, it's not the most immediately catchy album, but it gets into your head.
Portishead, made up of Geoff Barrow and singer Beth Gibbons, have created a melancholic, melodramatic album full of the atmosphere of film noir. Much of the album sounds like film music, but the electronic beeps provide a modern touch and a robotic feel. The album is backed by strong beats and Beth's wailing vocals.
Some of the strongest songs include Roads ("I've got nobody on my side and surely that ain't right"), which drifts in a melancholy fashion. You can imagine driving down a dark empty motorway in the middle of the night listening to this one. Sour Times ("Nobody loves me, it's true") also stands out, as does Pedestal, with its slightly different beat. Wandering Star sings of blackness and darkness, and indeed this permeates the whole album. It's very much a bleak, late-night album. The highlight is probably Glory Box, which I recognised from an advert owing to its distinctive intro.
Overall, this is an unusual but brilliant album. It might not grab you immediately, but after a few listens it gets you hooked. It's not for every day, but in the right mood it's a brilliant album to listen to. All the songs are dark, complex and brooding - an excellent album.
2. Sour Times
4. It Could Be Sweet
5. Wandering Star
7. It's A Fire
11. Glory Box
Dummy is one of the most atmospheric albums I have ever heard, named after an area of Bristol, the band Portishead created a moody, elegant album full of sadness and regret and unequalled beauty.
With Beth Gibbons on vocals the album is filled with achingly sad songs of loss, loneliness and isolation.
The album was released in 1994 and is their debut, it was a popular album around the world building on the Bristolian Trip Hop of Tricky, the Wild Bunch and Massive Attack and giving strings and a sense of melancholy to the genre.
It is difficult to pick out particular songs as the album is very much background music, it has cool cinematic music and the vocals are amazing, but it does flow along like one long moody song.
The excellent Sour Times is a song only reached number 57 on release but was later re-released, it sets the tone for the album as Gibbons croons about the sour times we're living in, this a stand out track as is Mysterons which has a great trippy start and a weird Mysterons-esque beat alongside a tin drum sound, the vocals stand out totally as the overwhelming influence on the album but the moody guitars, samples and drums build a dark, edgy world of musical niihilism. Numb is utterly beautiful with a standout sample and a lo-fi feel to it, the song really does sound like a tune made in a garage, but it is beautiful, Gibbons sounds more seductive than sad and the song has a certain dirty sexiness to it, while Wandering Star has a thumping bass and a strange disjointed backing vocal, but is probably the most fun and upbeat song on the album.
This is not an album to listen to when you are depressed, it is very low and deep and the kind of thing to listen to at university or as a backing track to a cool dinner party. It is timeless and still sounds amazing today, but enjoy it as a 45 minute piece of music rather than the particular songs.
The samples and dub on the album are first class and it has a real 60's feel with cinematic sounds straight from the John Barry school of music, but allied to a modern dirty edge. It is a great album which they have been unable to equal as individuals or as a band, but as a piece of work it is one of the best musical pieces I know of.
2. "Sour Times"
4. "It Could Be Sweet"
5. "Wandering Star"
10. "Glory Box"
The album is available for £4.95 on Amazon, the cover features a picture of Gibbons at a concert and to me looks like an old sixties cover by the Kinks or something, the album definitely has a retro feel to it allied to a thoroughly modern sense of detachment and musical eclecticism, its definitely worth buying, although its even cheaper on Ebay.
Dummy was Portishead's debut album and I find it hard to believe that it was way back in 1994 that it was first released. The album gained much acclaim at the time and won the Mercury Music Prize in 1995. I've only recently purchased the CD and I'm hooked. Its trip-hop 'Bristol sound' is generally regarded as benchmark of the 1990s music scene. Trip-hop is generally defined as a fusion of hip-hop, chillout and psychedelic rock that has also often been be associated with drug taking. The band have since released two further albums: Portishead in 1997 and Third in 2008. Lead vocalist Beth Gibbons also made the 'Out of Season' album in 2002 with Rustin Man.
Portishead consist mainly of instrumentalist and lyricist Geoff Barrow and lead singer Beth Gibbons, although guitarist Adrian Utley contributes some subtle chord contributions on some of the tracks, in particular on Glory Box. There is also some impressive bass work on Pedestal. Other contributions include Andy Hague on trumpet, Gary Baldwin on the Hammond organ, Richard Newell who does some of the drum programming and Dave McDonald who plays the nose flute. Barrow's instrumental work gives the album its edge with a diverse range of funky percussion, analogue tape loops, syncopated rhythms, sample scratches and Hammond organ tremelos. Arguably the most impressive instrument on the album though is the fragile, soulful voice of Beth Gibbons whose singing has been compared to the likes of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
The outstanding tracks on the album are Mysterons, Glory Box and Sour Times. The spooky Mysterons opens the album and has a spacey feel to it that manages to effectively fuse funky hip-hop rhythms with a military style beating snare drum. The sublime "Glory Box" is probably the best known track. It evokes a sleazy atmosphere and incorporates some spacey guitar work alongside an excellent bass-line sampled from Isaac Hayes's "Ike's Rap II". The song has unfortunately been much reproduced in TV advertising. Other song samples are often so distorted they become barely recognisable. A slowed-down sample of Johnnie Ray's 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again is used on 'Biscuit' and 'Sour Times' makes use of 'The Danube Incident' by Lalo Schifrin. Many of the tracks have a cinematic almost film-noire like quality. Sour Times would slot comfortably into the soundtrack of a David Lynch movie. At times throughout the album it's as if an atmosphere of almost sinister melancholy is threatening to disrupt an overriding beautifully evocative harmony.
Some critics have argued that the album drags in the middle part but although 'It Could Be Sweet' is my least favourite track, for me this is an album that flows sublimely throughout with a truly entrancing and hypnotic quality from the freaky and pulsating 'Strangers' to the laid-back ambience of "Roads" with it warm violins caressing Gibbons' expressive vocal strains. After a few listens, these songs soon sink into your subconscious and suck you into some ghostly urban heart of darkness where everything moves along in slow motion. For me Dummy is primarily a highly addictive chill-out album that has aged extremely well. It still remains one of the best albums of the 1990s.
I was first introduced to this album a couple of years ago when I was shopping with a friend, and he urged me to buy this. I buckled under the pressure and gave in, and oh boy am I glad I did. This album has became an essential soundtrack in my life now, and I don't know how I survived without it before.
Portishead originate from Bristol in the UK, and were formed in 1991. They came together through band members Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow's love of beats and samples, and Beth Gibbons' passion for songwriting.
The album Dummy arrived in 1994 and made waves on the music scene in a big way, establishing themselves as a big player in the "trip-hop" genre along side other big guns such as Massive Attack and Tricky.
So, for the album itself...
1. MYSTERONS: The album opens up with a track which is fairly typical of Portishead. Beth Gibbons' vocals are very haunting here and the song has a very unnerving vibe about it. Perhaps not best listened to whilst walking home late at night in the dark.
2. SOUR TIMES: This was a famous single by the band, and is not like any other track on this album. It has a very retro and old fashioned feel to it. This track has been used a lot in popular culture and sampled by many acts, most notably former girlband The 411 used a sample of it on one of their singles.
3. STRANGERS: This has a darker sound to it, both in terms of the beat and the texture. The effects on Beth's vocals give them a rustic feel.
4. IT COULD BE SWEET: This is another track which is unique on this album and doesn't sound like the others. The beat is slightly harder on this one, and Beth's vocal styling is different.
5. WANDERING STAR: This one to me has more in common with the above mentioned track 'It Could Be Sweet' than the rest of the album, despite not sounding like it. It has a looped bassline which is recurring throughout, although amazingly it strays from becoming repetitive.
6. NUMB: This was one of the immediate standouts for me, quite a bass heavy beat to it and some unique percussion. Beth sounds fragile in this one, and the vocals are quite unsettling.
7. ROADS: This is my favourite track on the album, and my favourite of Portishead overall. It's more downtempo and melancholic. In this song, Beth lays her emotions bare, and whenever I listen to it I feel as though time has stopped. By rights, one listen of this song should be enough to convince you that this is an album worth owning.
8. PEDESTAL: The beat in this track is very hypnotic, especially in the breakdown sequences where some very effective scratches are thrown in. Beth cries "You abandoned me, how I suffer" in this, and she makes you really feel her grief and anguish.
9. BISCUIT: This is another one which has a very dark and unsettling vibe to it. Beth also lays her emotions bare on this one, except in a different way to 'Roads'. She sounds trapped and suffocated. The distorted guitars in this track are effective too.
10. GLORY BOX: My brain almost falls out every time I hear this, it has a sexy, beautiful vibe to it. It's also complete with strings, an overblown chorus and it has an amazing climax towards the end. This is another track which is often used in popular culture, I particularly remember hearing it in a Galaxy advert years ago, which is probably where I first heard it. A beautiful work of art which truly needs to be heard to be believed... the same goes for the the whole album.
As a side note, non-UK editions included a track called 'It's A Fire' which wasn't included on the UK edition, but was a b-side on the 'Sour Times' single. It's really worth tracking down, very worthy of inclusion.
I've heard lots of people used this album as a soundtrack to dinner parties... which I don't get. It's far too dark and menacing for a dinner party surely?
This is an album that truly changed my life and is an essential item for all music fans to own. It is one of the greatest albums ever recorded and is fully deserving of the legendary status it has in music.
A few weeks ago, the shortlist was decided for the Mercury Music Prize. It will inevitably be Mike Skinner (aka 'The Streets') who will pick up the coveted title that has been previously won by PJ Harvey, Badly Drawn Boy and Roni Size. Portishead won the award in 1995 for their debut 'Dummy', a genre-defining collection of beats and sounds. Fronted by the enigmatic Beth Gibbons, Portishead were founded by Geoff Barrow (who had previously worked with Massive Attack) and also featured the multi-instrumentalist Adrian Utley. Portishead emerged out of the Bristolian scene at roughly the same time as Tricky (whose 'Maxinequaye' album they beat to win the Mercury), and only a few years after Massive Attack had released their seminal 'Blue Lines' album. Lazily labelled as being 'trip-hop', Portishead were more theatrical and elusive than the indie bands like Blur and Pulp who were thrust into the mainstream at about the same time, but also completely different to dance acts like the Prodigy. In fact, their probably best described as being totally unique - after all, how many bands would release a short 15 minute film complete with gender-bending, murder and conspiracy as a way of selling records? The album sleeve is dominated by grainy stills from the said film, entitled 'To Kill A Dead Man'. They set the tone for ten bare and understated tracks that comprise the album. The opener 'Mysterons' is a paranoid sounding song with some unusual and spooky sounding effects offset against some modern scratching. A creepy drumroll add to the feeling that this could be straight out of a 1950's black and white horror film. The following track was their biggest hit. 'Sour Times', which revolves around a bitter chorus from Gibbons of 'nobody loves me, it's true', almost sounds eastern European with its unusual instrumentation. The track features a sampl
e from Lalo Schifrin's 'The Danube Incident', one of many tracks that Portishead adapted for their album. 'Strangers' is a bit faster paced, although retains some of the paranoid and introspective sentiments of the previous two songs. Gibbons's vocals are distorted somewhat on this one to give it a 1930's feel, a little bit like some of Billie Holliday's work. Clashed with a contemporary dance beat, it makes for an interesting listen. 'It Could Be Sweet' sees their sound stripped down to concentrate on Gibbons. Her smoky smouldering voice is hard to describe - delicate, but forceful at the same time. More of a chilled out track, this one has a really nice melody and a memorable chorus although it was never released as a single. By contrast, 'Wandering Star' is driven by a one note sequence on a Hammond Organ, and sees a return to the paranoia of 'Mysterons'. Another distinctive vocal performance from Gibbons and some scratching from Barrow on the track give it a real edge but perhaps this track is most notable for the writing credits being given to ten different people - surely a record! 'Numb' is my favourite track on the album, and is known to many as soundtrack to the car advert with the dolphins in the street. Although it is only the scratched introduction featured on the ad, it is the impassioned but frail delivery of Beth Gibbons that makes the track outstanding, and first drew me to Portishead. The dance beat is also a reminder that the band were willing to take risks and be multi-directional. The effect is a timeless track that should have had a bigger impact than merely selling a few motors... The seventh track 'Roads' is much slower than the others, almost bluesy. With the Beth practically singing through tears, the song sounds as though it has been plucked from a death scene from a film with its melancholy guitar line and elegant s
trings. With its dirty instrumental arrangements and a bluesy trumpet, 'Pedestal sounds a little different from some of the other tracks on offer here. Gibbons voice sounds stronger here, and is one of the best tracks off the album in my opinion. 'Biscuit' is based upon a slowed-down sample from Johnnie Ray's 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' and is all about caution in entering a relationship. The eerie snippet of Ray's work offsets Gibbon's fretful vocal and the whole of effect of the song is uncomforting to say the least. The end of what is a disconcerting, disengaged but strangely appealing album is perhaps their best known work. 'Glory Box' was probably the song which properly launched them into the big time. A lush string arrangement taken from Issac Hayes's 'Ike Rap III' is the centrepiece, with Gibbons's pleas of 'I just want to be a woman' deliciously layered over the top of it. Complete with a distorted guitar solo half-way through and some hip-hop beats springing from nowhere towards the end, 'Glory Box' is a fantastic way to finish 'Dummy' even if it feels a bit more polished than some of the other songs on it. Despite being quite old now, 'Dummy' still sounds fresh, and still as haunting all these years on. They have so far managed only one more album since, although a third is anticipated at some point within the next year. Although it could never be described as easy-listening, and certainly not chill-out music as we know it, it is widely regarded as being up there as one of the classic British albums of the 1990's. I wonder if people will be saying the same about The Streets in a decade's time...
In my eyes Dummy an album by Portishead would definately be in the all time top ten albums, it is simply fantastic. Listen to it once and you just want to put it on again and again. Every song is great and just has a different perspective to anything I have ever listened to and to enjoy every single track is very unusual!. Anybody who does not own Dummy must and I repeat must go out tomorrow and buy the album as it really is that good. Why should you buy it!, well a mix of slow but very deep bass oriented and dancey tracks, intersperced with haunting and quite emotive lyrics make for a dark but eminently listenable album. From Wandering Star to Numb(which is my favourite track because of its superb introduction, give this album a listen and you will not be dissapointed!. The tracks on the album have quite a lot of scratching in them and this helps make it different, there is a dark feel to Portishead's music and you have to admire the originality of this album. The band gained there name from a place near Bristol called Portishead and it is a name that I am always reminded of when I think of great albums!
In my opinion Glorybox is the best song. I worshipped that song when it first came out. It still sends a shiver down my spin when I play it. As I type this I can't get the tune out of my head! Sour Times is also a great track. It is moody and full of melachony. In fact, the whole album is like that. If you are feeling depressed DON'T play this album. It will make you feel worse! But don't dismiss it. I still put it on when I am chilling out. I can't be the only one who thinks they are great. Have you noticed that a few programmes have used their music?
Portishead's first album is a magical experience. Ingeniously orchestrated, conceived and performed, all of the songs of the album stand alone as great individual pieces of music, while when played in the order of the album create one of the most electryfing while at the same time somber and relaxed of atmospheres. Music mainly for the night, to be enjoyed in silence and with proper lighting, can be found somewhat depressing by some, especially if you are in the "right", or "wrong" for that matter, mood. Give time to this album. You will find that the more you listen to it the more you will love it, talking here, obviously, only from personal experience. Download their songs from Napster and give them a listen. More words are futile really when the music itself speaks volumes. One of my favourite albums of all time. Roads, Glory Box and Mysterons being pieces of music of extreme quality. Enjoy....!
This is not a CD for the faint hearted. Portishead's post-grunge mood has only recently bewitched me. But, I can now say without doubt, that 'Dummy' is one of the finest albums of the last decade, an epic which perfectly encapsulates all the required elements of a classic album and then some. The opening 'Mysterons' sets the Theremin flavoured scene, enticing the listener with irrestible guitars. The most bombastic track is 'Sour Times', impossibly groovy and sad at the same time. Yet, Beth never sounds morose and it is this which buoys the album, as there is a hint that her depression may just pass (as it indeed does as 'Glory Box' confirms to us at the end). Other notable tracks include 'Roads', which is my favourite song, a sad and tragic wrist slasher of a song, which uses its mournful strings and delicately played funk guitar to maximum effect, and 'Numb', which demonstrates that when it comes to harmonising over a sample, it is Beth Gibbons who cannot be beaten.
Having seen Portishead live in New Zealand this CD blows me away everytime I hear it. Anyone who gives this album less than a four star rating obviously does not know how to listen to music. Sure, on first, second, and even third listen the album sounds tragically depressing and far from pleasing to the ear. All truly great albums shock and/or confuse the listener. What sets apart the true music fan from a mere mainstream, pop-culture follower is how closely he listens to an album, not judging soley on a first impression. And those who know and love music understand how breathtakingly original "Dummy" is. Sparse yet full of intricacies, Portishead created one of the decade's most enduring and mind-expanding albums in 1994, years before the other "media-whoring" so-called "trip-hop" acts. Portishead and "Dummy" is the real thing.
One of a kind! This band produces very atmospheric and moody music. They've been involved in producing for film backtracks and for remixes of conventional tracks with established bands such as Paul Weller. Dummy was their debut 'large sales' album. It contains music which you will instantly recognise from major television series and fashion shows. Whilst only Massive Attack can compete with portishead in terms of 'dark' mood setting, Portishead has established a unique sound which is their trademark. Utilising the 'scratchy' sound of vinyl and the very precise use of drum beats, they add classic finger tapping quality to any middle of the road track. I would recommend this as a must buy to anyone tired of the same conventional pop sounds.
One of the classic albumns of the 90's was 'Dummy' by Portishead. From the haunting opener, 'Mysterons' to the beautiful, torch song, 'Glory Box', this collection is a soundtrack to the end of the last decade, century even! A wonderful mix of blusey guitars, highly dextrous scratching and the most amazing female vocals since Janis Joplin, blend into and equally dark and hopeful soundscape. Track two, 'Sour Times' is a soulful, sad sounding Ode to love. Beth Gibbons vocal talents at their best here. The seventh track 'Roads', stand out for me as one of the sadest, most heart-wrentching songs of recent times. Thse subtle guitars, and low key strings make for a most beautiful melodie, to which you cannot feel anything but touched. They were part of a new and much imitated movement at the time and have appeared to have fallen by the way as their contemparies, such as Moloko go from strength to strength. If you are turned on by mellow, deep music give it a go.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Sour times
4 It could be sweet
5 Wandering star
10 Glory box