Back in the mid-'90s, the British trio Portishead emerged as bastions of the trip-hop movement. Trip-hop was a term invoked more often by the media than the bands themselves — because, you know, we love to label things! — but Portishead's music fit the template with beats born out of hip-hop production techniques allied to Beth Gibbons' pained and possessing vocals. The band's 1994 album Dummy remains iconic of the sub-genre.
Beyond that moment in the '90s, Portishead's music has also proved a lure for other artists looking to add a cover version to their repertoire. So ahead of the group's show at the Shrine Exposition Center tonight, here are the five most persuasive Portishead cover songs out there.
5. “Glory Box”
Faith No More
The Portishead song that wooed the masses, “Glory Box” combined a seductively depressing groove with Beth Gibbons' even more depressed vocals. It's a blend alt-rockers Faith No More took to covering live — although the mommy-howl of a plea “I just wanna be a woman” sounds more daft than emotive coming out of Mike Patton's mouth.
4. “All Mine”
Tom Jones & The Divine Comedy
Welsh crooner Tom Jones has two main claims to fame: Performing the '60s hit “It's Not Unusual” and showing off his rampantly hairy chest. Thanks to kitsch appeal, the turn of the last millennium saw Jones cutting an album of duets with acts like The Cardigans, The Stereophonics and even Portishead. Jones also covered the band's “All Mine,” with the song's bombast proving a surprisingly decent fit for his bellowing pipes.
3. “Sour Times”
One-time Floetry songstress Marsha Ambrosius' take on Portishead's Lalo Schifrin-sampling “Sour Times” sticks faithfully to the original's template. The only issue? Ambrosious' forceful voice comes off as possibly too empowered. When you are whining about how nobody loves you, a little bit of frail self-pity can go a long way — as Gibbons well knows.
2. “The Rip”
Here Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood gently strum through an acoustic take on a cut from Portishead's 2008 project Third. It's a tender tribute, complete with savvy Apple product placement in the video!
1. “Glory Box”
Aging British guitarist John Martyn's rendition of the Portishead sound succeeds because he embraces the timbre of the band's formula. He sings like he's in dire pain, he uses vocal restraint to drum up emotion, and he makes the smart decision to update the gender of Gibbons' original lyrics (see: Faith No More's entry). Chalk it up to the synergy of the Anglophiles.