First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2000, Volume 7, #10
Written by Michael Karpinski
Excepting, perhaps, Red House Painters, there may be no band on this planet more in need of a
gallon of Prozac and a couple cups of sunshine than Bristol, England's Portishead. At the very
least, these disconsolately despondent trip-hoppers' CDs should come with a warning sticker affixed:
EXTENDED EXPOSURE TO PORTISHEAD RECORDS MAY INDUCE LISTLESS DISINTEREST, DEVASTATING DISILLUSIONMENT, AND MORDANT DISORIENTATION IN UNINITIATED LISTENERS. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR THE NUMBLY NARCOLEPTIC, THE DEATHLY DEPRESSED, OR THE CHRONICALLY FATIGUED.
Where's C. Everett Koop when you need him?
Recorded live in the summer of 1997 with a 35-piece orchestra at New York City's historic haunted dancehall — the Roseland Ballroom — in the summer of 1997, PNYC finds Portishead exhuming 12 tunes from their first two albums (1994's Dummy and 1997's Portishead) and attempting a bit of Frankensteinian reinvention. For the most part, the songs' arrangements have not been radically revamped, and the minimalist strings provide tasteful, satellite shadings for this anti-matter galaxy's blazing, black-hole sun: Beth Gibbons' serrated, iceberg-Siren soprano. Just listen to her Eartha Kitt purr on the Rat Pack-on-acid All Mine or her blood-curdling caterwaul on the madly menacing Half Day Closing. On Over, she channels Robert Plant. On Sour Times, she conjures a Fever-ish, possessed-by-the-devil Peggy Lee. Indeed, Gibbons' voice evokes any number of tragic tableaux — Dido in her death throes... Ophelia weeping in the willow... Sylvia Plath giving in to the gas.... PNYC ultimately unspools as a series of James Bond theme suicide grooves, simultaneously spacious and insulated; insular and cinematic. Think: spooky. Think: slinky. Think: Kubrick. Think: Lynch. And listen to the sinister Mysterons — with its martial rhythms, sinuous guitar, and Kashmir coda — and the breathtakingly radiant Roads — which proves the rare case where enthusiastic crowd accompaniment enhances (rather than detracts from) the emotional undertow of the music.
Depending upon your mood and mindset at the time, PNYC can be a maddeningly schizophrenic listen — transcendent and indispensable one second; pretentious and unaffecting the next. Naturally, anything this dancing-with-death intense runs the risk of ratcheting average-joe audiophiles into states of brain-dead entropy, while a certain percentage of sunny-side-up optimists may find themselves inspired to spontaneously combust or simply cease to be. Yet, provided they approach with all due care and caution, the glass-half-empty crowd should be drawn to this slow-motion sonic car-crash like moths to a mushroom cloud — especially those who number themselves among the chronically fatigued, the deathly depressed, or the numbly narcoleptic. ½
PNYC is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box