The amount of times I turned to this album and continued to play it long after first hearing it would be impossible for me to count. This album floored me when I first heard it and still does a little bit now. In fact, I actually forced told myself not to play it for a while cause I was frightened that I would fall out of love with it a little bit. I wanted to really savour this review and it’s no surprise I’ve left one of the best till last.
Generally regarded as Massive Attacks best, listening to this you can certainly hear why. The humble urban aspects of their beginnings on Blue Lines are lessened and replaced by ambitious electronics, creating dreamy soundscapes which completely hypnotise you. The use of dub on this album is fantastic and the bass is some of the most addicting I’ve heard. The production on here is simply flawless and you can tell the band have probably gone over everything with a fine tooth comb. This is a sound of a band who continually have expanded their sound and this is the climax. The whole record just flows so well, it’s such a cohesive set of songs that all perfectly intertwine with each other. Despite perhaps been considered a “chillout” album, this isn’t full of quiet subtlety. There is plenty of that to be found, but it’s balanced with some fantastic musical bombast that blows up in your face as well.
One to savour.
Personal Fave Track: “Teardrop” (such a hard choice!)
I still remember the first time I heard this. I was at my friend Pinky’s house (who also plays a starring role in the White Pony review a bit or so back) and we were on the beer (as usual). Music was playing and conversation was flowing. Pinky suddenly decides to change the music and on comes Dummy. I’d not heard anything like this before and my ears instantly pricked up. Conversation seemed to lower in volume and the topic turned to this album. I was hooked. The whole album just seemed to fit that moment. Cigarette smoke (not mine!) floated through the air and the mood was set.
I obtained a copy of this album pretty quickly and gave it a listen. The first time was no fluke, the second time listening to this (sober this time) was just as good. Numerous spins, and here it is in my top ten.
Along with Massive Attack, Portishead are generally generally regarded the other big name in trip hop scene that came out of Bristol in the 90’s. They aren’t a band who go for the jugular, instead they are all about the mood. On this album they absolutely nail it and this really is a perfect example of the “less is more” school of thought. It’s quite amazing how much people love this album when it only consists of understated hip hop production and vocals. But, when your vocalist is Beth Gibbons you don’t need a lot else. Her voice is so striking, yet so fragile and vulnerable. It draws you in and sets this album apart from others. It sounds like she’s putting everything all her emotion into every word and it hits you.
Such a delicate voice demands special care. It can’t be drowned out in a wall of noise. Up steps the trip hop production, but rather than bury those fantastic vocals it compliments them perfectly. Understated is the word here, with ambient electronics, subtle strings and even a little jazz combining with hip hop drum beats to create a somber backdrop which allows Gibbons to flourish. Fantastic a backdrop it is as well, some of this production sounds like it’s come straight from a strange dream.
Combine these two elements and you have the perfect “moody” album. I picture this being played in some cool low-light bar/club with only a few people in it while white smoke floats through the air. Not sure why I associate smoke so much with this record, maybe it’s the somewhat “floaty” nature of these songs! Anyway, listen and let this take your breath away.
Personal Fave Track: “Mysterons”
My new job as an Reprographics Operator requires a lot of concentration. It’s my responsibility to prepare digital artworks to the best of my ability so they look good on the shelf and are printable on an industrial scale. Sometimes I have to go through paragraphs of text consisting of different languages making amendments. It’s no real surprise I turn to music when I need to really focus and I’ve timed checking out this band perfectly. Time and time again this year I’ve turned to this band to help me really get stuck into work.
But, for me to suggest this is just an album to put on when you have some repetitive office work to do is doing this album a real disservice. I can’t believe this album was released in 1991, because for me it still sounds so fresh today. Hip hop, electronic, dub and soul all combine to create this fantastic urban sound. Some people perhaps think urban as a dirty word, but this is such a clean, cool collection of songs I think some people may redefine their meaning of the word after listening to this.
Such variety as well, compare something the hip hop of “Blue Lines” to the soaring soul of “Unfinished Symphony”. It just works. You could put this on after the worst working day imaginable and find yourself completely de-stressed. This is where this record excels: chilling you out. And in this fast paced world we live in, that is certainly no bad thing.
Personal Fave Track: “Hymn of the Big Wheel ”