Los Angeles Times, Sunday September 21, 1997, pp 59
PORTISHEAD, "Portishead," Go! Beat/London
"Dummy," this English band's 1994 debut album, was
a landmark ear-opener. Beth Gibbon's often astounding vocals--full
of heart-rending longing and pain--intertwined with programmer
Geoff Barrow's smoky sonic concoctions and guitarist Adrian Utley's
spy-movie twang to set the standard for such ice-cool cousins
as Sneaker Pimps and Lamb.
No dummies themselves, the team has no interest in being stuck
in a genre and has raised the bar with this follow-up to a level
that's going to be hard to match. Gibbons takes her place alongside
Sinead O'Connor and Bjork as one of pop's premiere female singers,
as well as providing herself gripping lyrics detailing desire's
transformation into obsession and mania. On the opening "Cowboys"
she's a razor-tongued Billie Holiday; on "Undenied"
she's Shirley Bassey via Anais Nin. Even when her vocal affectations
border on grating, her air of despair and desperation is all too
Meanwhile, Barrow, Utley and engineer Dave McDonald craft compelling
tracks conveying the depth of emotions as much as the vocals and
words. Too colorful to be written off as noir, sounds both created
and sampled (with such touches as Barrow's hip-hop scratching
and distinctive strings and horns) portray a tortured mental landscape
in vivid dimension.
By Steve Hochman