Go! Discs, 1997
The long awaited follow up to 1994's "Dummy" has a darker, harsher sound. As before, there are samples of old show orchestra noises over scratchy noises and hissing percussion, but with fewer mellower moments. This time, instead of ripping samples from old records, they created their own samples and pressed them on to vinyl, to create their distinctive cross-decade feel.
Beth Gibbons' voice often has a rougher edge, often singing deliberately just outside the key of the backing, most unnervingly on the spooky "Half Day Closing". On the spiky "Elysium", a brief moment of quiet semi-acoustic noodling is soon dispersed by a raging synthetic sax. In mellower numbers she simply squeezes out all the emotion from the words, such as on "Undenied", with a gentle electric piano theme, and the beautiful "Mourning Air".
While "Dummy" had a couple of weaker tracks, this maintains its quality all the way through. The songs are often based on the simplest of ideas, such as a ponderous Western-movie hum in "Cowboys", a little two-note theme in "Over", the familiar Portishead whistle in "Humming". The real treat is at the end - "Western Eyes" is a perfect combination of restrained, spooky backing and inspired melody, fading out with a disjointed scratchy croon about "hookers and gin".
August 13, 2003