Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Songs #278, 279 and 280 - It's TWOsday! Or it is THREEsday?!

Song #278 of 9999                   Song #279 of 9999                           Song #280 of 9999

Title: Glory Box                         Title: Hell is Round the Corner          Title: Karmacoma
Artist: Portishead                      Artist: Tricky                                       Artist: Massive Attack
Year: 1994                                Year: 1995                                         Year: 1994
Album: Dummy                         Album: Maxinquaye                           Album: Protection

I sometimes feel incredibly deficient when discussing music of the 1990s. I tend to think it wasn't a very good decade for music but I don't know if it's because it really wasn't or if I just missed out on the good stuff. Writing this blog has helped the latter case and tonight's post uncovers some of the evidence.

Thankfully, I didn't miss out on Portishead. Although I find their output to be uneven, there is no denying the cool appeal of Dummy and especially (for me, anyway) their 1998 live set Roseland NYC Live. "Glory Box" is a great example of why I find Portishead to be the best of the Bristol trip hop players. Singer Beth Gibbons allows herself a full range of emotion in her vocal performance and guitarist Adrian Utley matches her fervor in his solos even as the backing tracks never break a sweat. This is not music that was intended as background noise and it makes me sit up and listen.

Tricky's "Hell is Round the Corner" from his 1995 solo debut uses the same Isaac Hayes sample as "Glory Box" but the song has a looser structure, relying less on melody and musicianship than on the rhythmic wordplay inherent in Tricky's rapping and singer Martina Topley-Bird's phrasing. It's probably unfair to feature this song—there are better singles from the record—but I was surprised by the shared sample and intrigued by the varied usage.

And there's Massive Attack, who seem to have spawned all of this activity. According to Wikipedia, founding Portishead member Geoff Barrow interned as a tape operator in the studio during the recording of Massive Attack's debut and Tricky was a guest vocalist on their very successful 1994 offering Protection. "Karmacoma" sets one of two Tricky performances from the record atop a dub reggae beat prominently featuring a sample of Borodin's opera "Prince Igor." It's just the kind of clever and creative sonic assemblage that seems to trickle limitlessly out of Great Britain.

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