All-Time Albums: #34



1 Mysterons 5:06
Sour Times 4:13 (UK single, #13)
Strangers 3:58
4 It Could Be Sweet 4:19
5 Wandering Star 4:56
6 It’s A Fire 3:48
7 Numb 3:57 (UK single)
8 Roads 5:09
9 Pedestal 3:41
10 Biscuit 5:04
11 Glory Box 5:06 (UK single, #13)

Trip-Hop, that most 90s of genres, was of course invented by Pete Waterman. Rewind to 1986, and a single by SAW-produced male duo Morgan McVey – “Looking Good Diving” – had, on its flipside, a reworking of the track with contributions from McVey’s girlfriend Neneh Cherry. This morphed into the worldwide smash Buffalo Stance, after which Cherry and McVey created a musical collective called The Wild Bunch, whose first significant act to emerge were Massive Attack. Three years later, came Portishead.

Good ol’ Uncle Pete strikes again.

Portishead’s calling card was a fusion of modern sampled beats and an atmosphere of retro, filmic noir. They incorporated everyone from 60s and 70s soundtrack greats Lalo Schifrin and John Barry, to Isaac Hayes and even Johnnie Ray. So far, so languid and moody. The killer ingredient, however, was Beth Gibbons and her extraordinary vocals, establishing her within the space of one album as an iconic female voice to rival Elisabeth Fraser or Tracey Thorn.

Remarkably, the album grew from a muted start in August 1994, to become a Mercury Prize-winning, platinum success, reaching #2 and spending over a year on the UK charts.

My favourite track on Massive Attack’s debut, Blue Lines, was the brooding, propulsive Safe From Harm. The best bits of Dummy (which, frankly, is just about all of it) took that ambience and multiplied it several times over. They could be jazzy and downbeat, Beth Gibbons sounding discordant and bereft, they could provide the perfect soundscapes to 60s thrillers that never existed, and when the mood took them they could put together an absolute juggernaut of a rhythm (as on Strangers).

The overall result was intoxicating and mesmerising.

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