Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Desert Island Discs: Dummy

My favorite kinds of albums (regardless of genre) are the ones that you listen to a few times when you first get them, put them away or don't really listen to for a few months or even years. Then, you come back to them and re-engage them with a different perspective than the one you had when you first heard the music. Somehow, the latter listens feel deeper, richer, and more robust than the first time, even though it's been a while. I can do that with a few, special albums more than once. If you haven't done something like that, I would recommend it. It's really a nice experience. The trick, of course, is remembering to come back to the album in a few months.

I mention this little side story because it applies to my desert island disc of the day: Portishead's masterful debut record Dummy. It's an album that you cannot listen to just once. It begs for repeated engagement, on both musical and lyrical fronts. The more you listen, the further in you go into the emotional journey that Beth Gibbons and company weave with so much complexity that sometimes you can forget where you are or have been. That's ok, though, because the journey itself is more important than figuring out a destination. The opening arppegiated chords of the album's first track "Mysterons," with that echo, set the mood: dark and mysterious, yet welcoming. The album's primary single was "Sour Times" with the chorus "Nobody loves me, it's true/ not like you do" that translates dispair well, although in some ways this song sticks out from the rest of the album. I tend to find more comfort in the warmth of songs like "It Could Be Sweet," "Wandering Star," and "Roads." Also, let's not forget the spectacular closer "Glory Box." This song still keeps the dark moodiness, but it ends things on a slightly optimistic note that seems to take charge. Gibbons demands "Give me a reason to love you/ give me a reason to be a woman." Such a commanding stance feels like a source of power. It's not just that I feel a need to love others; I want to know that investment of my time and energy is worth something to them. Overall the songs come together well, and they have complemented various moments in my life, some good and others bad.

Also, let's talk about genre for this record. There are elements of jazz, soul, alternative rock, and yes...most certainly the genre the album is most known for: trip hop. They essentially inspired trip hop with this CD, and it makes sense why. At the time there really wasn't much like this record out there, so it felt so new and creative. Even to this day I think it's a very creative record, and it's part of why I'm so into their long-awaited Third album (it's one of my favorites of the year so far...I have a mini-review of it a few posts ago).

What this album does for me more than anything else, though, is just exist as a companion. It recognizes that life has problems. The waters are turbulent, yet I feel ok with the turbulence when I listen to this record. We don't need to have all the answers to questions or problems. It's enough that we have a relationship with the world around us. That relationship is changing, and it invites participation. It begs for us to engage with it. Dummy gives me the strength and perspective to do so without feeling like I'm giving too much of myself in the process. I get as much as I give. For me, the record's strength isn't so much that I feel like Beth Gibbons understands me (or anything like that) as much as it is that I feel a connection in the kinds of feelings she conveys independent of specific experiences or perspectives. Isn't that enough, though? Even if I have no idea what someone else is going through and can't relate through sharing similar life experiences, isn't it enough sometimes to share an emotion, or more basically, an affect? I think so, and that's why I heart Dummy.

Previous Desert Island Discs
Radiohead - OK Computer

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