It is true that Portishead's Dummy album ranks in what is probably a top 5 albums of all time in my head. It slayed me when it came out and has since managed to sound a lot less dated than many of its contemporaries that came out about the same time. While I keep on keepin' on and waiting for that group to get their whatever together and put out a new release, I figured that I could salve my wounds with a little of this Beth Gibbons And Rustin Man release. Armed with one of my favorite modern-day female voices, I figured that even if they threw yak armpit farting noises behind her, I could work my way through it.
As it turns out, former Talk Talk member Paul Webb helped out mostly with this release (under the name Rustin Man), and while it indeed works wonders in most places, it stumbles in a few, crossing over into an almost sickenly sweet radio-friendly territory that make me doubly wish for new Portishead material already.
The disc actually starts out in grand territory, opening up with the absolutely stunning "Mysteries," on which Gibbons lets loose with her amazing vocal range and the instrumentation varies from spooky and minimal to full-blown mini-orchestra. "Tom The Model" keeps the ball rolling with a ghostly chorus and other minimal orchestration before the choruses burst forth with a round of horns and squealing Hammond organs. So far, so good even continues with "Show," a stripped-down piano and bass piece that again lets Gibbons shine as the torch singer that she is.
Even the faux-Bond (James Bond, that is) of "Romance" keeps the toe on this site of adult contemporary with a bit of wanky guitar and swirling choruses and horns, and it's only in a couple places that the album takes a mis-step. "Drake" (a pretty obvious nod to Nick) is a breaks into more obvious territory with a shuffling beat and some syrupy harmonica while the closer of "Rustin Man" is about 4 minutes of studio-effects that never really manages to go anywhere. The domestic-version bonus track of a live recording of Velvet Underground's "Candie Says" doesn't add much to the release, either, as even Gibbons sounds like she's having a slightly off-night vocally. If you're a fan of Portishead and the vocal stylings of Gibbons, there's plenty to love on this release (Adrien Utley even co-produced many of the tracks), and there are a few letdowns over the course of its 50-minute running time.