Go Beat, 1994

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


When Dr. Dre is a fan of a band because of its beats, that says something. When that band is a down-tempo duo from Bristol whose songs run a bit slower than an all-day C-SPAN marathon, that REALLY says something. But that's the effect that Dummy had on its listeners.

Portishead was part of the UK trip-hop scene in the early '90s (primarily focused in Bristol). Their debut album may not have revolutionized music like Massive Attack's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Blue Lines or made it rock star-compatible like the Chemical Brothers did with Dig Your Own Hole in 1997. It didn't need to -- it merely had to be a great album.

The first thing you notice when you listen to Portishead is a weird chill in your forearms. Keyboardist Geoff Barrow and singer Beth Gibbons layer Dummy with jazzy structures and film-noir soundtrack effects, giving a sound that is too sophisticated to be lumped into stoner chill-out music. "Glory Box" and "Wandering Star" have a lumbering pace that somehow manages to keep listeners entranced.

It's hard to believe that a little more than ten years ago, the popular music scene in the United States could welcome a morose, sulky song like "Sour Times" into their music charts. After "Sour Times" comes the most up-tempo song on Dummy, the plodding, pulsating "Strangers." The looped beat sounds like a slow march through six inches of snow. The slowness of the tracks may be off-putting to some listeners more accustomed to Bjork or Massive Attack, but Gibbons' morose intensity will reel you in.

Dummy has been classified as a trip-hop album, but unlike other trip-hop albums, Dummy won't get you on the dance floor. Instead, the album begs for privacy and full-immersion. It can be a demanding listen, but an ultimately rewarding experience, just as Dr. Dre. The only real weakness of the album is the tendency for some of the songs toward the end of the album to sound too similar to one another (save the amazing closer "Glory Box").

The lyrics on Dummy are, for the most part, about disappointment and emotional voids. Still, I have yet to meet someone who freely quotes Portishead lyrics. What Portishead does is create a mood that begs for cigarettes and strong tea. It may not be the most energetic album you listen to, but the film noir-heavy influence makes Dummy one of the best headphone trips you'll ever take.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


This is a classic album to chill out to. When you've had a shitty day, week, month, just put this on in a quiet dark room and let it take you away. Beth's voice is haunting and it's strangly erotic. Well for me anyway.

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