Trip-hop was never so dark and magnificently despairing as it is here. Portishead draws listeners into a velvety abyss in debut album "Dummy," a glorious blend of jazzy instrumentation, subtle electronica, and Beth Gibbons' sweet moaning vocals.
"Mysterons" opens with an chilly, ghostly air, followed by the exotic despair of "Sour Times" and the jazzy, eerie "Strangers" and "Wandering Star." Portishead delves into pure trip-hop in the pulsing "It Could Be Sweet" and "Numb," then synthesizes strings and stately organ in "It's A Fire," before wrapping things up with the steady lament "Glory Box," with its undulating riffs.
A noir feel permeates "Dummy," giving a grounded feel to the spacier edges of the music. It's easy to imagine trenchcoats, smoky offices, rainy days and femme fatales set to this music. It's soaked in melancholy and dreamy depression, set to music.
The blend of lounge music and trip-hop could have been awkward, but it blends seamlessly. The Rhodes and magnificent Hammond organ are the core of the silky unearthly sound, adding an epic feel to many of the songs. At the same time, the flexible guitar riffs and jazzy percussion bring it down to earth. And the Hammond does double-time as a jazz instrument as well, even when paired with strings.
Beth Gibbons's vocals are outstanding: high and clear and sweet, except in "Strangers," where she sounds like her voice is being filtered through an old radio. She pours plenty of emotion into the despairing lyrics. The songs themselves are simple and evocative, with loneliness and regret dripping from them. ("The salvation I desire/Keeps getting me down")
Jazz and trip-hop blend seamlessly into the beautiful haunting whole that is "Dummy." A beautiful experience, and one of the best albums of the 1990s.