iTunes Catch of the Day: Portishead

Portishead has a new record out.

The reader will be forgiven for one of the following responses:

1. Portishead? What the hell is Portishead?
2. Portishead? They’re still making records?
3. Portishead — I think my Mom listens to them.
4. Portishead, yeah, I remember liking them — when Bill Clinton was president.

Twelve years is a long time to go without putting out a record. But one of the things I’ve always liked about Portishead is that they don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about being successful. And it’s one thing for bands to stay “indie” by downscaling their operations and staying closer to their (limited) audience, but it’s something else again to simply refuse to play the game, to pack up ones samplers and go home. In a way it’s kind of the ultimate cred move — smooth move, Portishead, playing the “integrity card.”

Anyway, Portishead has a new record out, and it’s called Third, and it’s wonderful.  It’s quickly becoming my favorite record so far this year (step aside, Raconteurs, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, et alia).

A band that takes twelve years between albums would be forgiven for becoming irrelevant, dusty, twee or marginal in the lapse (I’m looking at you, XTC) but Portishead simply picks up where it left off and moves forward. The record everything one would want from a Portishead record, and then more. It is startling, eerie, moody, catchy. It is simultaneously more “live” than their first two records and more artificial, more contrived. (Am I the only one who prefers the live versions on their Roseland NYC album to the studio versions?) The arrangements are more adventurous (a mandolin even pops up on one tune, with Gene Autry-style cowboy harmonies), the tempos more diverse, and there are some stylistic experiments so surprising that I’ve had to stop several times to make sure that what I had heard was intentional and not some download glitch. The tension between the druggy electronic backgrounds and Beth Gibbons’s keening vocals is as alive and disturbing as ever.  If popular music has moved on from where Portishead was in 1996, well, I was never too interested in popular music anyway.

Note: while this post is filed under “iTunes Catch of the Day,” I actually downloaded Third from Amazon, where it was two dollars cheaper. This was my first time downloading from Amazon, and I am happy to report that the Amazon download program is fast, efficient and problem-free — unlike eMusic, which is cheaper but is, frankly, is a pain in the ass.

hitcounter

Comments

16 Responses to “iTunes Catch of the Day: Portishead”
  1. Anonymous says:

    I saw the promotional poster for this in Borders a few days ago and a small shudder of joy passed through me. I am wondering how much of that is nostalgia.

    ‘Dummy’ was genre-defining, then they had a follow up album which I bought and own but don’t remember. It seems like they couldn’t soldier on through the fall of the genre to reach a ‘MEZZANINE’ moment.

    I’m definitely going to get the CD… maybe it’s their era of origin but I think of Portishead as needing the tactile and visual components.

    If there is one good (or interesting) song, I’ll be happy. If they are trying to riding a wave that’s past– that would be just depressing — in a bad way.

    • Todd says:

      ‘Dummy’ was genre-defining, then they had a follow up album which I bought and own but don’t remember.

      For me, it’s not that I don’t remember it, it’s that I’ve played both of them so much that they’ve blurred together in my head.

  2. charlequin says:

    It is startling, eerie, moody, catchy.

    And fantastic. I am very pleased with the new record and would subscribe to its newsletter.

    (Am I the only one who prefers the live versions on their Roseland NYC album to the studio versions?)

    Nope. It’s expertly recorded and gives you exactly what it should: the songs, only more open, energetic, and real. I listen to it more often than either proper album.

    A band that takes twelve years between albums would be forgiven for becoming irrelevant, dusty, twee or marginal in the lapse (I’m looking at you, XTC)

    Even speaking as a huge fan, suggesting that XTC were not a significant subset of those things before their seven-year hiatus is perhaps overly generous.

    • craigjclark says:

      Well, I was going to mount a defense of XTC, but now I don’t see the point.

    • Todd says:

      It (Roseland)’s expertly recorded and gives you exactly what it should: the songs, only more open, energetic, and real. I listen to it more often than either proper album.

      It took the Roseland record for me to realize that, on top of sounding so wonderful, Portishead writes actual songs.

  3. gdh says:

    I’m already liking it better than their second album, but I don’t think they’ll ever top Dummy.

    This one definitely took me a while to get into. The first two albums were full of songs that grabbed you instantly, in the first bar, while the new songs are slower to build up to something interesting.

    The one thing that really hasn’t changed much is Beth’s voice. I’m always too busy listening to her sing to hear what words she’s saying. Hell, I still couldn’t tell you the lyrics to Strangers or Numb.

  4. bassfingers says:

    Is it me, or did Portishead get the guy who designed the new Adobe icons to do their album cover?

    I’ve got the new album, but haven’t given it a close listen. I think I first discovered the band, sadly enough, when “Roads” was one of the best tracks on the Tank Girl soundtrack.

    Don’t laugh.

    And speaking of long-time-between-album folk, I wonder if Peter Gabriel will release another album before the world ends in 2012? Still hoping he finishes his Sousaphone cycle. (So, Us, Ap Up… the next album should be “Ho”, a gansta rap album, followed by “Ne”, a Monty Python tribute album, if sources are correct…)

  5. dougo says:

    And Kevin Shields swears there will be a My Bloody Valentine album this year. Hey, if Jandek can tour, anything can happen.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I strongly third the Metal Gear Solid series. As a player of RPGs, I was accustomed to story in games, but it was while playing the first MGS that I first gained a true awareness of the cinematic and storytelling potential of the gaming medium. That game used certain tricks unique to game systems to pull you further into the narrative.

    I would agree that MGS3 is the best of the series, fond as I am of the first one. What I’d really love to see, however, is your reaction to the second game. There have been some interesting, thought-provoking articles and essays written about it, but I am loath to post links until after you’ve played the game. With your perspectives regarding structure, I’m very curious to see your take on it.

    There’s actually a new release, Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection, that contains all three games, including the harder-to-find first game for the PS1. As noted, all three games can be played on the PS2 or PS3. Recommended.

    Oh, regarding Portal–if/when you play it, be sure to watch/listen to the credits.

  7. teamwak says:

    Wow, I love Portishead!! I saw them at a festival near me in 97/98 , I think. They were very good.

    Did you ever see the fantastic sureal promo they did in the UK for the start of the show? It was set to Portishead’s Numb and was a big hit here.

  8. r_sikoryak says:

    Glad to hear its good!

    The other nice thing about Amazon, in this case: no digital rights management.
    Why does Amazon offer that while Apple doesn’t (for the same album)?