Good Morning to you! This Is Jacob Braybrooke and, you guessed it, it’s time for me to guide you through an in-depth look back at one of the seminal sounds of the past that has been influential to those of the present for ‘Way Back Wednesdays’, because it fulfills my mantra to write up about a different piece of music every day! A female-led group who were largely seen to be the companions of Massive Attack in mid-90’s Bristol, Portishead were one of the greatest pioneers of the Trip-Hop music genre – a blend of Hip Hop and Electronica with elements of Dancehall, R&B and Soul that obscure the two core values to feel quite unrecognizable at times – between their years of activity between 1991 and 1999, with a reunion to follow up in 2005. Fronted by Beth Gibbons, Portishead were named after the nearby town to Bristol of the same name, which can be found roughly a few miles west of Bristol along the coast. The band are mostly known for their debut studio album, ‘Dummy’, which was showered with universal praise from both critics and audiences alike when it saw the light of day in 1994, quickly becoming a landmark British album of the 1990’s. A further two well-liked albums followed in 1997 and 2008, but ‘Dummy’ inevitably won the Mercury Prize in 1995. They also cited an engineer, Dave McDonald, as their fourth member ahead of some releases, and, in 1999, the band received the ‘Outstanding Contribution To British Music’ award at the Ivor Novello Awards. These days, Beth Gibbons has continued to work on projects as a solo musician, and she worked as a judge for the tenth annual Independent Music Awards, supporting the careers of independent music creators. Check out one of their earlier singles, ‘Glory Box’, below.
Built from a sample of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Ike’s Rap II’, ‘Glory Box’ reached the #13 spot of the UK Singles Chart when it was released as a single from Portishead’s iconic triple Platinum certified debut album ‘Dummy’, in January 1995 and the legacy of the track continues to take off because, in 2011, Slant Magazine ranked the tune at #21 in their article of ‘The 100 Best Singles Of The 1990’s’ and it has also been used in a variety of TV drama programmes, including appearances in episodes of ‘Lucifer’, ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘The Vice’. Kicking off with a classical Bond-like instrumental created from the aforementioned sample piece, Gibbons reflects on post-feminism and what it means to seek love as a woman during the more contemporary times of the track, slowly crooning nail-biting lyrics like “Leave it to the other girls to play/For I’ve been a temptress too long” to the tune of a mellow, ambient and fairly spacious musical backdrop made up of a slow hip-hop breakbeat dressing and a lustful, darkly hypnotic Dub template. There’s a push-and-pull sense of tension to these sounds, with a harsh guitar solo that continually enters the fray at brief intervals, which gives the energy of the track an uplift in the more rough-edged moments, where Gibbons croons lyrics like “We’re all looking at a different picture/Through this new frame of mind” that feel slightly more optimistic, in outlook, than the more swooned delivery that came before. The chorus of “Give me a reason to love you/Give me a woman”, for example, explores her feminime out-and-out dejection with an emotional payoff, while the downtempo Jazz sensibilities knowingly nod just enough in the direction of Plunderphonics and Lounge Jazz. The rest of the production feels very potent, with Gibbons matching the cinematic string-infused instrumental with a voice that almost feels like it’s coming out directly from an antique radio on the beach. It isn’t quite a ‘Chillout’ record of slowed dance melodies and Ambient Pop production that were all the rage for a brief period during the late 90’s and the early 00’s, but the psychedelic backdrop oozes a balanced mixture of melancholy and momentary bliss. Overall, this is a liberating and terrifying anthem for post-feminist despondency of the time, with edgy production that kept things fresh and well-paced instrumentation that amplifies the power very carefully. An iconic “Final Torch” moment from their landmark album.
That’s all for now! Thank you very much for your continued support for me and the blog, and thank you, as always, for getting this far to the end of the page with me. Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at a popular recent release from a California-born rapper, performance artist, poet and activist who has been opening doors in the Alternative Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul genres, and, as of 2019, has identified as transgender after beginning hormone therapy for a gender transition in that same year. They have rubbed shoulders with huge mainstream mega-stars like Kanye West and Taylor Swift.
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