DESIGNER DESPAIR (The Mire)

portishead_-_third1

Rousing praise for Portishead’s latest amidst Simon Reynolds’s latest bumper pack of reflections on Blissblog. I find Simon’s enthusiasm for the LP a little perplexing, although, I must confess, I’ve never been that enraptured by Portishead. I became quickly fatigued wading through the gloopy designer despair of their debut, and had all but lost interest by the time of the follow up. The combination of kitchen sink torch singing, vinyl crepitation, sweeping film samples and brokeback hiphop beats possessed a certain stylishness, but the appeal quickly palled. It was the ‘stylishness’ that was the problem, actually. Even though I don’t doubt the personal sincerity of either Gibbons or Barrow, formally it all sounded a little pat, a little too cleverly contrived, a little too comfortably at home in This Life 90s Style culture. Gibbons’s gloom always struck me as being more like illegible grumbling than the oblique bleakness it wanted to be. As for the new album, it screams out lack of ideas: devoid of the vinyl crackle that might have given it some relation to the ‘hauntological now’ of Burial or Philip Jeck, I can only hear it as clapped out coffee table miserabilism ten years past its sell-by date.

(Meanwhile, I can’t help feeling that Geoff Barrow and arch smugonaut Mark Ronson are right about each other.)

 

Simons Renolds’ review of Third:

Don’t understand the naysayer position on this one–surely this is the best completely-unexpected (indeed we almost forget they existed AT ALL) return-to-form-that-isn’t-just-a-reiteration since… I can’t remember. I’ve reviewed this elsewhere and will post that in the other place after a decent interval, but for now let me mention that the first track “Silence” reminds me oddly of the beat-ier uptempo-but-still-sinister tracks on Moon Wiring Club’s fantastic An Audience With Art Deco Eyes. And in fact it was Derek Walmsley who pointed out to me that Art Deco sounds a bit trip-hoppy in places (not meant as a compliment either, particularly, I don’t think). But there does seem to be a definite and logical intersection between Portishead and H-ology: after all, they’re all library music and film-score fiends, and wasn’t there a track on the second album dedicated to Broadcast’s favorite band the United States of America (one reviewer thought this was a political reference, but I imagine it’s more likely to be a nod to the Dorothy Moskowitz-fronted group, whose “that voice” style is audible as an influence on Beth Gibbons’s singing on Third I think: she sounds very white, most of the time). But also, if you’re talking about being haunted by the past and chained to ghost-memories, well Gibbons owns that territory.

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