After ten years, Portishead has a new album. This is undoubtedly a good thing, though you wouldn’t know it from this Salon article by James Hannaham, who seems to think that because the band’s new album doesn’t sound like their las tone (from a decade ago) that Trip Hop Is Dead! And Portishead killed it! Wah!
April 17, 2008 | Trip hop died on April 29, 2008, in Portishead, North Somerset, England, after a long illness. The coroner listed the musical genre’s cause of death as acute gloom as well as a severe deficiency of sexiness and Afro-Caribbean influence. Its funeral was conducted by Geoff Barrow, a beat maestro with a penchant for spy soundtracks, and Beth Gibbons, a chanteuse with a quivery vibrato, two members of the group Portishead, named after the town where Barrow grew up. The funeral service has been released in the form of a CD by the band, titled “Third.”
Trip hop’s parents always hated it — especially the deep, bumping rhythm section that made it popular background music in restaurants, lounges and hipster bedrooms. Its main practitioners felt that audiences would take trip hop more seriously if they removed these elements. Gradually they deprived the genre of black grooves and strangled it with white goth. Not until “Third,” however, did the genre make a decisive move into middle Europe, taking on German and Eastern European elements.
First, Triphop wasn’t exactly a movement with any sort of claim to immortality or cohesive manifesto, or even being a real movement. It was basically a few musicians who lived in Bristol and were friends and had similar influences.
But more importantly, claiming that Portishead has tragically gone Goth and expecting this to come off as a bad thing? Run that by me again, James:
Portishead’s “Third” finally severs all ties from anything remotely black or cosmopolitan, aside from a couple of breakbeats. Its extravagance, repetitiveness and gloom make the album Euro and Romantic enough to sound, at times, like high camp. When they prepare to take this set of dirges on tour, Gibbons and Barrow will need a truckload of lace and black lipstick.
A monotonous breakbeat throbs. Barrow adds synths that bring to mind theremins and Farfisa organs — the stuff of 1950s horror movies — even the theme from “The Munsters.” Gibbons begins to groan, her voice ghostly and nearly operatic. “Tormented inside,” she sings. “Wounded and afraid inside my head.” This describes only the first song, “Silence.” Similar tracks recall a variety of mopey and/or industrial groups from the ’80s — Joy Division, Dead Can Dance, sometimes even Eastern European provocateurs Laibach.
Tapping the shallows of their despair, the group weaves in bummed-out folk tunes like “Hunter,” “The Rip” and “Deep Water,” which set Gibbons’ dreary delivery against Spanish guitars or mandolins with the reverb cranked to give the impression that she is singing inside an empty church or a lonely culvert. Gibbons urges herself to conquer her fear of drowning. Listeners who have not decided to drown themselves by the end of that track should grit their teeth for “Machine Gun,” whose beat sounds a lot like — guess what? More accurately, the weapon in question seems to have been re-created on an 808 drum machine by the noise-punk band Einst¨rtzende Neubauten — those guys who used to play shopping carts onstage.
Oh stop! You mean they’ve adapted new sounds and grown over the last decade and are now influenced by Bauhaus, Laibach, Einst¨rtzende Neubauten… and this is bad, how?
This damning evidence of the band’s growth away from a brief trend that was kinda sorta popular among Insuferable Music Snobs during the mid 90’s is truly tragic. Something tells me this guy was upset when Bowie gave up being a folkie in favor of glam, too. I guess the rest of us will just have to make do with a band’s sonic growth into something beyond the narrow confines of their previous pigeonhole. How sad for us.