Portishead - The Rip
It is amazing to think that it was over a decade ago that Portishead's Dummy landed almost from another planet and transformed my student listening. It is easy to forget that before it became middle-class dinner party music their debut was a confident, fully formed and exciting new sound. The band have always been honest about the difficulties in maintaining that impact with subsequent work but by any measure it has been a long time to wait for a follow up to the eponymous Portishead album. There have been hints about a more aggressive sound and there is certainly something harder, harsher and menacing about this album. Beth Gibbons work away from the band has shown the wide range her voice is capable of and so I am gald to her some of that in evidence on this new album.
Opener Silence has skittering drums and menacing guitars which slowly build and it is over two minutes before Gibbons' unmistakeable voice comes in. This is definitely a darker sound. Hunter lulls us in with that familiar Barry-esque film score sound and then subverts it with dark guitar chords. Nylon Smile has a more familiar ring to it, albeit with faster drums and Gibbons' plaintive cry 'I don't know what I've done to deserve you/ I don't know what I'd do without you'. It is a much softer voice which begins The Rip with acoustic guitar and that melatron but then halfway through an amazingingly held note brings in synths and drums to take it somewhere else. Plastic is a track which sounds like it is being hunted by a helicopter overhead, very unsettling. And that menace continues onto Carry On with a sound like an alarm and an almost tribal drum beat under the dissonant melody. As the track builds, in drops a bass guitar riff that Peter Hook would be proud of. That is followed by Deep Water, a short ditty on ukelele with a bluesey vocal sample which seems to have evaded Moby's clutches. Then we're straight back into staccato beats with Machine Gun a track which shows the continuing influence of 80's synths on today's music. Small is nearly a ballad until 70's organ stabs come in and guitars. Magic Doors has an almost eastern like flavour to it and the album finishes with the superb Threads, its beautiful melody surrounded by those menacing guitars again. 'I'm always so unsure' sings Gibbons before it turns into a holler which is replaced by a synth's repeated note like that vast bass note used to communicate with aliens in 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'.
I'd love to see the middle classes try to use this as dinner party backing music. It isn't easy listening, which isn't to say it's hard, far from it. But it's good to hear Portishead back and sounding confident once again. It was always going to be a must have for Portishead fans but this album might just interest a new generation in their individual sound. I look forward to an appearance on Later...with Jools Holland especially because that will bring me right back to that moment I first heard them all those years ago.