This months blast from the past is the winner of the 1995 Mercury Prize, Dummy from Portishead. The bustling music scene in Bristol which emerged in the late 1980s, pioneering what has become know as trip-hop saw Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead all shoot to acclaim. Trip hop is a fusion of several influences and sounds, sampling from across the musical spectrum, creating a downtempo sound. On Dummy, Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow provided a divinely melancholic collection of instrumentals which Beth Gibbons punctuated with some of the most stunning vocal performances you’re ever likely to hear.
Dummy was completely cutting edge both stylistically and sonically, a good chunk of the songs on this record still sound so crisp and well produced, nearly thirty years on. With an album of this quality, it’s so tough to unpick individual songs and what makes them so great, because this really is eleven virtuoso tracks. ‘Glory Box’ is the most recognisable track on here, but this album contains ten songs just as good, if not better in some cases. To me, ‘Pedestal’, instrumentally, is the most impressive track on here, with it’s beat switches and sudden jazzy feel towards the end. But, in truth, there’s so much for a sampling nerd to get their teeth into on this LP.
I suppose it depends on your taste but the real selling point of this album is the vocals, they multiply the power of the instrumentals in a way only the truly great singers can. With that being said the influence this project had as a springboard for so much musical experimentation which came in the years that followed, is stark. This is one of the great musical releases of the 1990s, in my opinion. Nothing like this had come before, and with many plucking elements from it since, nothing has come close to matching it.