Friday, September 19, 2008

Portishead Backstory

I really enjoy Halloween. That said, one of the reasons I enjoy this season so much is due to that creepy, tingly feeling you get when you watch a good scary movie or the shivers you can't fight when you hear some eerie music.

One Halloween many years ago, I was home alone in my parents house. The Baka Boyz were playing music on Power 106 and they decided to play a song called Humming by Portishead.

Our street was dark, I had all the lights off and all the windows open in the house. The only visible light was the flickering reflection on the walls of the skewed faces of the Jack-o-Lanterns I had placed on the porch. You could hear the echo of the cackling children coming down the street as the song played its haunting tune. From that moment I knew I was a fan of whatever twisted artistic mind was behind this music.

Luckily I was recording the "mix" they were playing off the radio and after that otherwise uneventful Halloween, I tracked down the two songs by Portishead that I had heard that night. No names, I just remember the DJ's complaining that people were calling in, asking them to stop playing "that Portishead crap." I knew it had to be them if your typical Power 106 fan hated it. :)

A few days later I split to Best Buy and picked up the album Dummy. Usually self-titled albums are the first ones bands release so I figured "Dummy" must be the newer of the two. I was wrong but I still really enjoyed that album immensely so I wasn't concerned with about any refund. I returned and cautiously picked up the self-titled album. Keep in mind that there really wasn't an "internet" to speak of so I couldn't sample the songs anywhere. Only very few music stores allowed you to listen to the CD's first and none of them were anywhere nearby.

I was not disappointed. This was the album that had the songs I was searching for. The creepy, hypnotic tunes were great for when I was just relaxing in my room reading a book, or just waiting to fall asleep. I don't mean to make it sound boring. "Soothing" is more like it.

Anxious for their next release I waited...

and waited...

and waited.

I looked carefully at the release dates of the first two albums and noticed a huge gap. According to the CD sleave "Dummy" was released in 1994. "Portishead" was only just released in 1997. I thought it made sense since sample all that audio and tweeking it to sound just right would take much longer than your average garbage boy band release. "I could patiently wait 3 years" I told myself. A year 2000 release would be momentous. That year I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of one of my favorite Portishead songs, "Roads" in a terrible Keanu Reaves movie titled "The Watcher." That scene in the cemetary was the movies only saving grace. I took it as a hint that Portishead would be returning with that year 2000 movie placement. New age, new genre, a match made in heaven?

2000 came and went without a full album release from Portishead. 2003 came and went. 2006 came and went and still, nothing. I researched (now with the fantastical internets at my fingertips) and found some disappointing news. Apparently the band had...issues. The individual members of the group were still recording tracks and music with other bands such as Massive Attack, but Portishead was nowhere to be found. (The intro to the T.V. show House is a collaboration by Massive Attack and Portishead called Teardrop from the M.A. album, "Mezzanine.")

There was a benefit concert in Bristol where the group appeared and formally announced a new album in the works. I payed attention, but I was doubtful. How could they recapture that 90's feel over 10 years after their last release?

The album was released without any fanfare. It takes a lot of bribery for radio stations (clear channel) to add you to their play list. I didn't even know it was out until I was browsing through iTunes on my iPhone that I saw this picture.

I immediately recognized the sans serif lettering and acknowledged the fact that there was a clearly visible "3" behind the P. That same night I began searching for reviews and discovered that unfortunately, most were really disheartening.

The album was apparently released back in April and met with lackluster reviews. Many people clearly reiterating my original concerns. "They don't sound like they used to" or "The magic is lost" were sentiments shared by the majority of the reviews that I read.

The iTunes App on my iPhone allows you to listen to samples of the music, so I did just that. The samples were terrible. It didn't sound like them at all and a little piece of me died inside. I thought, "Portishead is truly dead."

It took me a few listens to truly enjoy the first two albums though so I thought, "Let me hear the full songs a few times to see if they grow on me. After all its been over 10 years, maybe there are just some audible cobwebs that need to be shaken loose."

I have since listened to the album at least 5 times from beginning to end. You can find my review here.


aJILLity said...

I have such a hard time with Halloween...I'm a worry-wort that is terrifyed of being scared. That being said, I've never had an appreciation for Halloween...

But it's really interesting to hear why you do like it. Yes, it's a spooky, tingling-feeling holiday.

HektikLyfe said...

Funny thing is I don't like movies like Saw. In fact I hate them. They don't scare me I just find them repulsive. I like the dark, creepy Halloween decorations and music.

Not really a fan of gore.