As a human being who has occupied the planet for a tad over 40 years, it is a slightly daunting reality that some of my favourite albums are having significant birthdays of their own. As incredible as it seems, a number of records that very much formed the soundtrack of my youth are turning 20, which to me is now exactly half a lifetime ago. As a result ‘Don’t Let Go‘ is to be a regular Across The Ocean feature, a nostalgic glance back in time to celebrate some of the truly seminal moments from that era. So with that said come with me on a journey back to the days of indoor smoking, flanno donning and scarcely controlled stage diving- the mid 90s. – Gavin Stocker
(Release date: August 22, 1994)
In an era where grunge and alternate rock heavily dominated, an unlikely band from Bristol snuck up and ambushed us all. Promptly dubbed “trip-hop”, Portishead seduced a generation of indie music lovers with a combination of beats, spacey guitars and haunting vocals. As a result it was not uncommon to find debut album “Dummy‘ sitting somewhat incongruously on CD shelves rubbing shoulders with the likes of Soundgarden and Nirvana.
Commencing life as a duo, Portishead initially consisted of Beth Gibbons (vocals) and Geoff Barrow (programmer, drums). After contributing heavily to the album in terms of both production and performance, guitarist Adrian Utley was promoted from temporary to full time member. Thus the trio was born.
From the opening track ‘Mysterons‘ we are drawn into a mesmerising journey. In ‘Strangers‘ and ‘Wandering Star‘ the band manage to sound simultaneously ambient and heavy. Possibly it is the powerful grooves evident in these tracks that managed to win over the rock crowd.
Delicate moments are plentiful too as Gibbon’s outstanding voice engulfs the spotlight in ‘It Could Be Sweet‘ and ‘It’s A Fire‘.
The pinnacle of the record is ‘Roads‘, an incredibly haunting song that still manages to create goosebumps two decades later. During the band’s eventual 1998 tour to Australia the performance of this track induced a mass hypnosis as the thousands crammed into Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion stood in silent swaying awe.
Then, of course, is the album closer ‘Glory Box‘. The line “I just want to be a woman” is as etched in our aging brains as much as any other lyric from that time. For a while there it seemed no night out in Newtown was complete without a late night juke box airing of the band’s most recognisable moment.
So if you haven’t given ‘Dummy‘ a spin for a while maybe its time to kill the lights, fire up the candles and get yourself a glass of red. Sit back, press play and allow yourself to be seduced all over again.