I still remember the first time that I heard Portishead's "Sour Times." I was driving along in my car at about 10pm at night, while driving home during Thanksgiving break one year. The song came on the radio and I kept turning up the radio more and more until the song was literally beating the smack out of my poor, cheap car speakers. I got goosebumps from the perfectly aligned beats, the amazing vocals, and that James Bond esque bassline that quivered just so. It was dark and moody, yet totally seductive, and I was instantly hooked.
Well over 5 years later, Dummy is one of those CDs that still sounds as fresh as the day that it was released. Although they've since release another Self-Titled disc (that is great, by the way) and a live disc, it's their original release that not only set a benchmark for the group, but really for a new sound as well. Basically, if you talk to most people who listen to electronic music, the 3 albums that they list in terms of being forerunners in the trip-hop sound are Massive Attacks Blue Lines, Tricky's Maxinquaye, and this disc by Portishead.
So what's all the fuss? Basically, it's one of those rare albums where nearly every single beat seems to be in place, every single little record scratch and sample fits into the mix and provides even more atmosphere, and vocals that just melt in your brain. It's 11 tracks of great music, and while a couple of them go over the five minute mark, not a one lingers on too long. From the opening guitar plucks, thick beats and spooky theremin of "Mysterons," it really does create a new atmosphere of it's very own that runs the gamut of emotions from the aforementioned downtrodden love song of "Sour Times" to the quiet, but beautiful "It's A Fire" and the fat beats and scratching of "Pedestal." Although I've mentioned the vocals before, I feel that I should also point out that Beth Gibbons is one of the main reasons the disc comes off without a hitch. While all the atmospherics alone would beat out most players in the genre, Gibbons sinks right into the mood on every track, whether she's crooning on "It Could Be Sweet" or swanking it out to full effect on "Glory Box."
Overall, if you're into trip-hop even the slightest and don't own this album, you should probably drop whatever you're doing and go out and buy it right now. After hearing it, you'll either feel like starting your own spy agency and using this as your theme music, or putting it on the next time you're trying to seduce someone. Either way, it's one of the best releases of the 90's and one of the best debut discs that I've ever heard (making it a very difficult task to create something that surpasses it). It's like the music that's playing at the dark, smoky nightclub in your dreams, only better.