Portishead Album Reviews
Portishead were formed in the city of Bristol, where a vibrant, multi-cultural music scene spawned trip-hop in the early 1990s. Trip-hop took the beats from hip hop, and slowed them down, adding textures and songs. Along with Portishead, essentially the entire trip-hip scene originated in Bristol, with Massive Attack and Tricky also from the city.
The band took their name from a coastal town near to Bristol, and were initially a partnership between vocalist Beth Gibbons and producer Geoff Barrow. Guitarist Adrian Utley contributed heavily to their 1994 debut Dummy, and joined as an official member shortly afterwards. At the time of writing, Portishead had only released two further albums since Dummy, 1997’s Portishead and 2008’s Third; even though they’ve never disbanded, the band members have spend time exploring other projects.
Each of the band’s records has its own sound, but generally they mix organic and inorganic textures; Gibbons’ lush vocals are infused with melancholy, and often recall classic blues singers of a bygone era. On their first two albums, the band employed hip hop beats and turntables, but layered other organic textures over the top, like Utley’s guitar.
Despite their limited output, they’re one of the more lasting acts from the 1990s – Geoff Barrow has said “I just wanted to make interesting music, proper songs with a proper life span and a decent place in people’s record collections.” Dummy is rightfully acknowledged as a classic, and their other two albums are also strong; their ability to update their signature sound for 2008’s Third was surprisingly impressive. I’ve also covered Beth Gibbons’ collaboration with Talk Talk bass player Paul Webb.
Ten Favourite Portishead Songs
It’s A Fire
We Carry On