Review #131: Dummy, Portishead

Karla Clifton
2 min readJul 9, 2021

#131: Dummy, Portishead

As with many of these albums, I had heard some of these songs before, but was not sure who Portishead was. They are a “trip hop” band from Bristol, England. Trip hop is basically emo house music. Think The Cure meets Skrillex, and wait for Massive Attack.

This album cover is a still from a short spy thriller Portishead made and released in 1994 called To Kill A Dead Man. I decided to watch it, since it’s only 11 minutes long and on YouTube, and wow, what a delight. Definitely not the worst short indie film I’ve ever seen. Highlights are: The nonsensical chess game that is used as a framing device, when Beth Gibbons is shot in her hospital bed and has rose petals blown all over her, and when Beth Gibbons is revealed to be ALIVE and starts playing the chess game.

This album came out in 1994 and I can think of about fifty bands that came after that sound just like this, including The XX, FKA Twigs, Lana Del Rey, and late-career Bjork. If you like that kind of music, you have Portishead to thank. If you hate that kind of music, you know who to mail your hate letters to.


“Mysterons” — This reminded me a lot of Bjork immediately.

“Sour Times” — THIS was the one I’d heard before.

“Strangers” — Her falsetto is so good and weird.

“Wandering Star” — Her voice is so trembly here! But I might have encountered this before, too.

“It’s A Fire” — More songs should have organ noises.

“Numb” — Their first lead single — they put this out right before To Kill A Dead Man was released! Too bad the only song they use in the movie is “Sour Times,” and only during the credits. I felt like all these songs would be really cool for a video concept album thing, so I kind of wish they had leaned into that more

“Pedestal” — Sometimes her voice puts me off, but I’m always reeled back in by these weird backbeats.

“Glory Box” — Whoa, I love when the last song is the best song. This heavy metal guitar has no business on being on an album this emo.


“It Could Be Sweet” — This was the first song that they Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow recorded before nabbing Adrian Utley, and maybe they needed him.


Portishead is the reason Grimes exists, and for that, all I can do is thank them.

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