Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Portishead: Third

Just to show there's more than one way to skin a cat, the other excellent new release this week is from a band who are pretty much the opposite to the Fall's work ethic, this being their third album proper in 14 years, and their first for 11. But if Scott Walker (of whom more later) can take 11 years between records, so can Portishead, and who cares when the results are as good as this?

Parr-zed (as you call them if you actually come from Portishead) are also pretty much The Fall's polar opposite in terms of their style, too, but there's a connection in the way they've managed to revitalise their sound while remaining recognisably themselves - "always the same, always different".

What's remarkable about this album is the juxtaposition of two entirely different textures: most of the music is harsh and stark, underpinned by brutally minimalist beats, and this is thrown into sharp relief by Beth Gibbons's fragile, pleading vocals. The effect isn't too far removed from Scott Walker's latter-day stuff, and it's interesting that this album is getting a lot of positive mention where Tilt was received with bafflement by many when it came out. Maybe this is a sign of how we've moved on.

The other music that comes top my mind as I listen to this album is that of Galina Ustvolskaya - there's a similar feel of supplications to an indifferent God, humanity somewhere deep in the midst of a vast, uncaring machine of a universe.

This isn't easy listening - there'll be few dinner parties with this on in the background, as Portishead's first album was unfairly condemned to - but it's powerful stuff, that reveals itself more and more with each listen. And it takes a very special kind of confidence to be able to produce this stark, oppressive sound, and then throw a ukulele into the middle of it, as happens on "Deep Water".

2 comments:

An Unreliable Witness said...

I just knew you were going to mention the ukulele. Did someone pay you to do it?

Incidentally, regarding 'Tilt' - I have a precious copy of it. Which I never play. *shudder*

petemaskreplica said...

I don't need bribing to mention the uke, thank you very much. It's always a pleasure to point out its presence, particularly when it's as startling as in this instance.

While I couldn't say I listen to Tilt every day (it's not that kind of record), it is an album I come back to. I remain convinced that it's a work of absolute genius, and the fact that almost nobody else seems able to stomach it only reinforces my conviction ;)