Portishead's mopey hip-hop
It's got a nice beat, and you can mope to it
Portishead’s sullen morning-after lament, ”Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me),” from the duo’s similarly morose debut LP Dummy, is not the stuff of which commercial success is usually made. But with the fast-rising single at No. 55 on Billboard‘s pop charts, nearly 300,000 copies of the album sold since its November release, and the video approaching ubiquity on MTV, clearly something’s happening. So the question becomes, Is this from-out-of-nowhere ascent simply a commercial fluke, or is Portishead poised to become the John Philip Sousa of the Prozac Nation?
Whatever the case, the band, along with fellow Bristol, England, ”trip- hoppers” Massive Attack, has fashioned the mood music for the ’90s — a kind of mopey hip-hop that’s touching a nerve among both thirtysomethings and indie club kids. ”For the older generation, we write songs that are gonna last…the emotional kind of stuff that tells a story…rather than just immediate pop songs,” songwriter Geoff Barrow, 24, says of Portishead’s near-ambient pastiche of dub, techno, R&B, and soul. And for the generation that has come of age with the ultrasensitive likes of Nirvana and Sebadoh: ”We’re not just happy for the sake of it.”
While the heavy (and heavy-lidded) grooving of Portishead chanteuse Beth Gibbons seems an unlikely crossover candidate at first, some find the band’s MTV-meets-VH-1 breakout a continuation of tradition. ”It’s music that’s as appropriate if you’re making out at home, or home alone pining,” says Gen X expert Michael Krugman, coauthor of the pop sociology parody Generation Ecch! ”And isn’t that pretty much why people listen to Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra?”