God, how I wanted to love the new Portishead record, to the point of erring on the side fandom: making excuses, exceptions, at times pretending to love a song that was actually causing vertigo. I understand that the progenitors of a genre that quickly descended into high-end frock shop soundtracks would want to make their long awaited comeback something of a departure. But why a decapitation? I know that psychologizing people you don’t know is usually just an exercise in projection, but I do get the impression that Geoff Barrow resented Beth Gibbon’s centrality in their previous work. Her voice is abraded and assaulted, on this track trying to mournfully bleed through cold, staccato bullet beats. This is hardly the album exception: “Hunter” strangles and scribbles on her voice, backdropped with a lullaby rhythm where the cradle has fallen and been shattered by the 18-Wheeler from the “Enter Sandman” video.
The video helps little, framing the song in the cold mechanization of a factory studio, like H.R. Giger built it for them. I’ve been in a lot of studios and they don’t have to look like the torture rooms from Hostel. The song and visuals offer nothing but the experience of occlusion and abjection, a sad descent for a band that at the very least used to be able to do depressing well. This isn’t depression, it’s an adverse psychiatric drug reaction. Even more distressing, it’s not interesting, the very least you can offer a listener if you choose to be intractably difficult about rejecting your past. Both the video and song simply alternate between flat planes of abrasion while Gibbons clamors for air. It’s dull and lifeless. I’m open to having my mind changed on this; sometimes all it takes is for a thoughtful person to offer an alternate view that wholly alters your perception. But for now, at least, I think this is pure cantankerous clamor.