The greatest #5: Dummy
|Beth Gibbons sings like honey drips. Not just in its slow, tempting downward crawl, but in that you can practically taste the labor of a hundred robbed bees. In every heavy breath and every breathy heave, you can feel the energy that her confessions are expelling, the exact toll they're exacting. In every droplet of song, you have to bear the sting to reach the sweetness.|
The dichotomy was never more apparent than on Portishead's 1994 debut Dummy. Part of the mid-'90s holy trip-hop trilogy, along with Massive Attack's Blue Lines and Tricky's Maxinquaye, Dummy left deep dents when it hit the landscape. It won Britain's Mercury Prize when that was still relevant and it broadened my twelve-year-old impressions of how sultry and slithery music could sound. Now that the album is itself twelve years old, fast approaching its teen years, its classic status has only strengthened and its influence widened if sometimes unfortunately (i.e. the glut of watered-down lounge-act imitators).
But what's most striking about Dummy today is how exciting it still sounds. It's timeless in the literal sense, and probably in the figurative one too, with Gibbons in perpetual ache and Geoff Barrow's soundscapes and samples still surprisingly contemporary. More than Maxinquaye and far more than Blue Lines, it's held up as an ahistorical entity rather than a document of its time and its place.
After all, how can any single time or place hope to pin down Gibbons' singular voice? It's too slippery and too sinuous. It curls in and around Barrow's beats, it pours over the ghostly dulcimer moans and slinks under the measured stomps of drum machines. It's a creature with wings and the nectar it produces. It's a substance that never spoils and a hard-won feast of gold.
* MP3: "Roads" - Portishead from Dummy
* MP3: "Wandering Star" - Portishead from Dummy [Buy it]