Portishead - Dummy

POOR PORTISHEAD. The town, man, not the slo-mo sound sculptors who have made this innocuous seaside hideaway sound so relentlessly tragic. For this is, without question, a sublime debut album. But so very, very sad.

'Dummy' unspools with melancholic majesty. From one angle, its languid slowbeat blues clearly occupy similar terrain to soulmates Massive Attack and all of Bristol hip-hop's extended family. But from another these are avant garde ambient moonscapes of a ferociously experimental nature. In other words, seriously spooky shit. But terrific shit all the same. Geoff Barrow's hugely evocative compositions earn constant comparisons with soundtrack gods Ennio Morricone and John Barry, although this is no smartarse spot-the-reference sample show. Most of these dislocating noises are played directly onto vinyl and then scratched back into the mix, creating deep and textured ambience instead of second-hand special effects.

Besides, it is Beth Gibbons' soulful sobs which really put Portishead on the emotional map. She can be Bjork or Billie Holliday, but the numb heartbreak is her recurring theme, culminating in the almost unbearable refrain "nobody loves me" from funereal current single 'Sour Times'. Both Barrow and Gibbons are products of lonely, loveless childhoods, so titles like 'Mysterons' and 'Wandering Star' as much products of other-wordly isolation knowing trash-culture obsessions - the shadowy underside of human behaviour distilled into weeping strings, spectral there vibrations and haunting silences.

Portishead's post-ambient, timelessly organ blues are probably too left-field introspective and downright Bristolian to grab short-term glory as some kind of Next Big Thing. But remember what radical departures 'Blue Lines' 'Ambient Works' and 'Debut' were for the times and make sure you hear this unmissable album. This may not be the future, but it is a future - one where Portishead is a desolate exquisitely beautiful place to visit.


Stephen Dalton