Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Together with Massive Attack and Tricky (both of whose debut albums also appear in this list), Portishead placed Bristol, England squarely on the map of heightened musical influence in the mid ‘90s. While many cite the trio’s inaugural effort Dummy as one of the earliest blueprints of the genre that would be billed—for better or for worse—as trip-hop, such genre classifications obscure the most important fact that the album exemplifies spine-tingling songcraft of the highest, most goosebump-inducing order.
Offering a unique and irresistible melding of electronic, hip-hop, jazz and soul influences, the unassuming trio of Geoff Barrow, Adrian Utley, and Beth Gibbons’ Mercury Prize-winning first long player sounds unlike anything else, then and now. Amidst the sonic backdrop of its cinematic, sweeping grandeur with dark foreboding tones throughout, Dummy’s greatest contribution may very well have been the introduction of Gibbons’ otherworldly voice, one of the most distinctive and indispensable “instruments” my ears have ever been seduced by.
Fueled by Gibbons’ spine-tingling vocal display, Portishead’s debut is music that slowly creeps beneath your skin and infiltrates your psyche, whether it be the Bond-like soundscape of “Sour Times,” the Rhodes piano blessed “Roads,” the hypnotic dirge of “Strangers,” or the Isaac Hayes indebted symphonic soul of “Glory Box.”
With only three studio albums and one live album comprising their core recorded repertoire over a 23-year span, Portishead’s output is conspicuously sparse. But what they lack for in quantity, they more than compensate for in terms of quality and durability. A class act, through and through, and an (inter)national treasure.