Portishead - Portishead

by Bob Coyne Rating: Release Date:1999-06-18

With Dummy, their 1994 debut, Portishead not only created a classic of turntable-derived soul, but defined their sound so exhaustively as to spawn a host of imitators. So what to do for a follow-up? As it happened, the answer was simple--refine the template. This self-titled album simply ups the ante on everything that made their debut so special: the brooding sense of menace, that deep streak of romantic fatalism. Much is made of the cinematic quality of Portishead's music--and indeed, many of these tracks sound like they should be accompanying some existentialist spy flick from the mid-1960s. But ultimately, it's singer Beth Gibbons that's their greatest asset: her vocals gliding effortlessly from the furious ("Cowboys") to the forlorn ("Mourning Air"); from the exuberant ("All Mine") to the exhausted ("Only You")--and all set to the group's most ambitious and expansive arrangements to date. A majestic, damaged and frequently terrifying masterpiece. --Andrew McGuire

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