Simon and I have both agreed to post a review of the new Portishead album. Because there clearly aren’t enough of those on the internet already. Anyway, I think this means I got there first. Waiting for you now, Simon 😉
I will start by saying I love it.
The opener, “Silence”, sounds enough like Portishead to be accessible but there is a menacing portent about it all that signals a clear departure from their earlier albums. I like the abrupt ending although I understand that it doesn’t exist on the final release. Shame. For me, it just emphasises the driving repetitiveness of the rest of the album. It could go on and on and on…
“Silence” is followed by “Hunter” – which would be perfectly at home on the first Goldfrapp album but which is constantly interrupted by a chaotic switch in tempo that reminds me of that old Delgados record…”Blackpool”, I think?
My favourite track, “We Carry On”, is all driving, industrial monotony. It sounds like Portishead channelling early Pink Floyd, some Nine Inch Nails and a little Joy Division towards the end for good measure. When Beth Gibbons sings “The pace, the time, I can’t survive / It’s grinding down the view”, the song feels as though it’s doing just that: grinding you down slowly. “Machine Gun” and “Plastic” are also cracking tracks and send just the right kind of shivers down my spine.
But the banjo-filled ditty that follows “We Carry On” just jars. I really dislike its inconsequential mournfulness in the middle of all the pounding drum machine. In fact, I don’t find that any of the album’s quieter moments that satisfying, which sounds almost blasphemous for a Portishead review, I know. But I only really like “The Rip” once the loop gets going. Maybe that will change after a few listens.
That said, I *do* love this album. I like its bleakness and its brutality. My only real gripe with the album is the lyrical content. Some might say it’s not important but, at times, it makes me squirm with its adolescent woe-is-me lament, most apparent on “Nylon Smile” (I read a review that describes it as “Dido doing emo” – a little cruel).
But I can forgive them this because it’s the first album I’ve listened to in a while that has such an effect on my mood – to the extent that I can’t listen to it more than once at a time – and that’s quite something.