Portishead’s new release as a time capsule

As I sat in a crowded coffee shop on the coldest April day in recent memory, thinking about what I’d write for this blog entry while sipping tea, I continually drew a blank. Deciding to take a break, I recalled that yesterday was the release day of Portishead’s Third, the British group’s first studio release in over ten years and went over to pick it up from the nearest record store. As soon as I popped the album into the stereo, I simultaneously had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia (particularly stemming from the raw, desolate quality of Beth Gibbons’ singing) and a feeling that the music I was listening to was of epic quality and represented the future — the kind of album that music fans will be listening to thirty years from now and still appreciating.

In a way, Portishead are the music industry’s time capsule, coming off of such a long, self-imposed hiatus that they have shared their creations with a music industry that barely resembles that of 1997, the year of the band’s last, self-titled studio album. Despite being a group known for their reluctance at being in the public eye — Gibbons refuses all media requests — the band has had some interesting things to say about the changing landscape of music in recent interviews.

When their new album leaked to a number of bit torrent and file-sharing programs in early March, the band was quick to voice their displeasure, and their record label, Island, was quick to shut down the efforts. “We’re definitely pissed about it,” said guitarist Adrian Utley to MTV News. “But I suppose there’s nothing you can do about it. You can only hope that it’s not going to fuck everything up for you, because I think, in this world, there are downloaders and people who buy. I don’t know if you can convince downloaders to buy. If we don’t sell records, we can’t make any more records. We’re just not rich people.”

Though this response to the changing landscape of leaking albums is common among many musicians, it is a stark contrast to less-established acts, many of whom also voice a certain degree of frustration over losing funds, but also appreciate the increase in buzz that it provides by more efficiently meeting customer demands. Frustration with the “old-fashioned, out of date, suffering entity” was emphasized by Nick Thorburn, of Islands, in an interview in the UW student paper, the Badger Herald previewing their show on campus earlier this month. “It’s basically people wanted to hear the record, and we weren’t able to meet the demand (sigh) and get it out to people in time and, you know. The record industry is a little slow to adjust, I think, but… We had a deadline for when the record was gonna be released, and we’re adhering to that deadline. So, the people who wanna listen to it before that, I guess, have that choice now. It’s inevitable.

In addition to the growing proliferation of music piracy post-Napster, Gibbons and company have also entered unfamiliar territory in terms of the blogosphere of amateur and recreational music reviewers — an entirely new force to reckon with, in addition to the already vast array of music journalists in traditional media. Just a quick search of the Google Blogs database for “Portishead Third” wielded over 12,000 results — 12,000 self-anointed music critics and dedicated music fans. Now, thousands of reviews can be written by bloggers on leaked tracks; establishing a reputation for the album before it even hits record stores, a trend which comes with many pros and cons.

Portishead also bring with them an interesting perspective on touring, often the center focus for recording musicians. Recent interviews have hinted at a certain sense of burnout among the band, even after the long hiatus, as the group’s recent blog-approved Coachella performance will reportedly be their only U.S. appearance of the year. “There’s nothing mysterious or sinister about it. We just don’t want to keep touring forever,” said Utley in a recent New York Magazine interview. “The more touring you do, the more it informs your music, but it can also kind of thrash the fuck out of you so you don’t really want to see anybody else in the band ever again.

“To us it seems fucking ridiculous,” continued Geoff Barrow. “We want to do something creative and interesting, but really, when you play live, you actually just end up on the same stage as fucking Limp Bizkit … You just keep thinking, What the fuck are we doing that for? Even more so now that we’re playing Coachella, in the middle of the fucking desert with loads and loads of people, and Prince after us. What the fuck are we doing that for?”

And what could this all mean for the future? How much longer will established musicians find it personally and economically rewarding to extensively tour outside of festivals? With the growing impact of blogs and album leaks, how much longer will albums be released in tangible forms at all? Are Portishead just being pretentious Brits? Comment with your thoughts.

–Joe Erbentraut, True Endeavors Communications and Public Relations Intern

2 Responses

  1. As a musician, I can relate to what they coming from. It takes FOREVER to make an album. Producers of goods and services, especially in a free market system, should be earning their worth. But, music is a different product. It enlightens people, in the spiritual sphere, and it can be duplicated and distributed by the consumer. The problem is, no one wants to buy a $14 dollar CD when they can get the content for free. If the CD is $9 or $10, it’d be different. So the cost of manufacture needs to come down and I think it’s very possible as long as the music industry grow some balls and challenge the current regulation on manufacture(i.e.,minimal wage-law, corporate tax and all that crap.). wait, it was just a dream…sigh

  2. Hey there…. We’ve developed a unique Website seo
    program that would rank any webpage in almost any business
    (whether it’s a competitive niche such as acai berry) to position easily.

    Bing and google can not ever identify as we employ individual ways to avoid leaving a trace.
    Do you think you’re inquisitive to experience it at no

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s