August 1994 saw the low-key release of Dummy by Portishead. The album would, correctly, be hailed as one of the best albums of the 90’s and slowly go on to be certified double platinum.
The first time I heard about Dummy Ian Brown was hailing it as the album of ’94 whilst being interviewed for The Big Issue about The Second Coming.
Often cited as Trip-Hop the album brings Jazz into the mainstream and adds unique qualities to create the ultimate coffee table album. Beth Gibbons delivers chilling vocals that really need to be heard. Adrian Utley with his steely, stark guitar adds to generate real tension.
Mysterons with its alien sounds and drum snare rattle launches Dummy. The sound is overall warm yet chilling at the same time.
Sour Times was a flop of a single on its first release that beggars belief. Left-of-centre, yes, but the song has a very wide appeal. The chord progression matched with the vocal delivery as the chorus reveals itself is beyond hit single material. Outstanding.
Strangers is more experimental. Harking back to decades before the song is one of a kind. After a period the song gets a 90’s laid back yet abrasive beat.
It Could Be Sweet does have echoes of Massive Attack for a brief intro before… that vocal again. This sound destroys Massive Attack in one fell swoop.
Wandering Star with its dub-pulse conjurers up images in one’s mind. A noodling hook slowly enters with slight vinyl scratches. Hip-Hop, Jazz, Torch Song supremacy.
It’s A Fire is soundtrack material. Very accomplished, polished yet organic.
Numb is a classic. using all that has gone before Portishead up a gear and an icy confidence sends real chills of joy to the listener.
Roads then only serves to stamp classic on Dummy. Following a track as strong as Numb is difficult – yet Portishead astonishingly up yet another gear. Roads will, (if you don’t listen to it daily), make small hairs stand up. There’s no better seal of approval than that. Subtle orchestration, waves of sparse guitar and a warm loved-up bass line give platform to that scorching vocal.
Pedestal is not as strong but by no means at all is it a weak track.
Biscuit shows Portishead can call a song any silly old name and still make it essential listening. Stuttering beauty.
Glory Box closes the album. Arguably it is the song that crossed the band over to the mainstream. Superb structure. A lazy bass gives way to the vocal you learn quickly to respect. I cannot imagine anyone not loving this song. As Glory Box swells it burns a vivid image. Deep yet accesible. The slower than slow guitar streak will again make neck hairs flex.
Not only is Dummy one of the albums of 1994, it’s one of the best albums from the 1990’s period…