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An inevitable matter of love or hate...
on 21 January 2009
It took months of repeat listenings whilst decorating my house to fall in love with Portishead's previous two albums - dangerous considering I was on a ladder and the doleful pessimism was unrelenting. It was the siren of Beth Gibbons' unmistakable voice that finally won me over.
This album has been a long time coming, and when you listen to it, you can feel it. A slow, inexorable sound which feels like the last decade or so has been taken, kicking and screaming, and forced into musical form. It's actually very visual music, every track seems to be motion-picture-like, as though it should be accompanied by a widescreen TV, although its doubtful you'd enjoy the movie.
All the songs are stark, crazy and metallic, like biting down on a fork, they'll thrill you in a painful way. I'm not sure there are words for this music, but:
"Threads" has something of This Mortal Coil's "Fyt" about it, a daze of slow-building intensity, its finale the musical equivalent of a spotlight roaming across an empty prison yard.
"Machine Gun", a song for a warzone. It's hard to imagine any other voice being able to hold its own, so naturally, against such music. And I love the ending, which to me has shades of Vangelis crossed with Brad Fiedel's original Terminator theme.
But "The Rip" is my favourite on the album... the light-fingered opening and the old-fashioned feel which has a flawed thickness about it that makes you feel like you might be playing an old vinyl copy... This song is such a peaceful moment that it's like overhearing a lullaby:
Wild, white horses
They will take me away
And the tenderness I feel
Will send the dark underneath
Will I follow?
And would Portishead follow? I don't think they could have gone in any other direction except out there on this dark, stricken limb.
The purest art - as is commonly known - provokes the strongest reactions. This album was always going to be an inevitable matter of love or hate.