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Designer Despair

Mark Fisher

Rousing praise for Portishead's latest amidst Simon Reynolds's latest bumper pack of reflections on Blissblog. I find Simon's enthusiasm for the LP a little perplexing, although, I must confess, I've never been that enraptured by Portishead. I became quickly fatigued wading through the gloopy designer despair of their debut, and had all but lost interest by the time of the follow up. The combination of kitchen sink torch singing, vinyl crepitation, sweeping film samples and brokeback hiphop beats possessed a certain stylishness, but the appeal quickly palled. It was the 'stylishness' that was the problem, actually. Even though I don't doubt the personal sincerity of either Gibbons or Barrow, formally it all sounded a little pat, a little too cleverly contrived, a little too comfortably at home in This Life 90s Style culture. Gibbons's gloom always struck me as being more like illegible grumbling than the oblique bleakness it wanted to be. As for the new album, it screams out lack of ideas: devoid of the vinyl crackle that might have given it some relation to the 'hauntological now' of Burial or Philip Jeck, I can only hear it as clapped out coffee table miserabilism ten years past its sell-by date.

(Meanwhile, I can't help feeling that Geoff Barrow and arch smugonaut Mark Ronson are right about each other.)