Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Difficult Third Album

If you listen to Portishead's latest album "Third" enough times it stops being annoying and starts haunting your dreams and taking up residence in your head. "8" was the number of repetitions I needed. I really, really didn't like it first time through.

Portishead produced what I believe is a perfect album, "Dummy", in 1994. It sold in the millions, was hugely influential and won a Mercury Prize. The tracks from this album are everywhere even today - you will know the songs even if you never bought the album. As an example, the trailers for the Radio 4 afternoon play this week used the gorgeous, bittersweet "Roads".

So, not bad for a first album. Where do you go from there ?

Well, you keep the magical voice of Beth Gibbbons and you keep and intensify the eclectic sonic experimentation.

If I were to write my own track in their new style, I'd need :-

* A peacock
* A 1980s computer game
* A sample of a New Order bass figure
* A String Quartet playing slow arpeggios with lots of diminished and augmented fifths and cadences that never resolve.

Then I'd need a sadistic Sound Engineer to mix in chalk-on-blackboard and crying babies noises.

It's never less than interesting and is often quite brilliant, but I really don't see it as an achievement on the scale of their first album. Maybe I just need to listen to it another eight times.

Warning : It is also VERY bleak and dark, so if you're working 12 hour days on a difficult thankless project that you really can't see the end of, you should have plenty of perky music by the Scissor Sisters and E.L.O on stand-by. Although there is pleasure to be had in listening to melancholy music when you're down - Mahler would never have made a living otherwise.

Check out Bill Bailey's pastiche version of "Zippedy Doo Dah" in the style of Portishead and tell me whether he's a fan or a critic.


Yeah, yeah, I really need to get round to this "Mad Men" review I keep promising.

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