My reviews of albums released by Portishead:
1994: Dummy (9/10)
I wrote this in 2011:
I can’t claim to be a huge trip hop fan but I have long been aware of it and I generally have had respect for it (I can handle it a lot more than hip hop). I guess this is sort of trip hop balladry – balladry in the modern not the traditional sense. As such it is very effective and well done, though I think to really get it under your skin, you have to be in a given mood or state of mind. I can’t say much beyond that in terms of criticism: it is well made and likable, though I guess if I can say one other thing it is a little one-note in the mood, if not in the arrangements.
I think that severely undersells how great this album is. I guess it just took me some time.
1997: Portishead (8/10)
If we force an artificial divide onto the trip hop spectrum, I am very much on the zany, insane, unpredictable Bjork side of it, rather than the moodier, “darker” but more uniform side that Portishead finds itself in.
That being said, I still quite like this band and what they do. Portishead connects with different traditions than the other trip hop artists and bands I’m familiar with, but they still successfully do the thing that I think distinguishes all great trip hop: using hip hop and electronica production in popular music; in this case, music that owes a lot to some of the more artsy pop of the 1960s, in addition to soul and R&B, and singer-songwriter. (In many ways, jazz is an influence too, as noted by the kind of awful genre names associated with this band, but it’s jazz filtered through the prism of popular music – Bacharach and what have you.)
I haven’t listened to Dummy in a fairly long time, so I can’t tell you off-hand if I prefer that record to this one, or vice versa. But I don’t really get the criticism that the songs here are weaker than on the debut. From memory at least, I feel like they are equally strong.
This is also a pretty good entry point to the genre, because it’s not as weird as some trip hop (cough Bjork cough).
2008: Third (???)
I swear I’ve heard this and I’m really surprised I don’t have a review. I feel like, when I finally got to it, I listened to all three and reevaluated my above views of the band, concluding that they are just amazing. But, there’s no review and I didn’t rewrite the above. Alas.