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(33⅓ #85)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  174 ratings  ·  23 reviews

A thoroughly researched exploration of one of the most original, unexpected, and durable British albums of the 1990s.

An album which distilled a genre from the musical, cultural, and social ether, Portishead's Dummy was such a complete artistic achievement that its ubiquitous successes threatened to exhaust its own potential. RJ Wheaton offers an imagistic, in-depth investi

Paperback, 235 pages
Published October 20th 2011 by Bloomsbury Academic / Continuum (first published September 29th 2011)
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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  174 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it

Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (quoted by R J Wheaton on page 154)

Years later Dummy sounds strange, filled with horror movie moments, ten songs to soundtrack your own autopsy and a singer who sounds like she's already unsheathed the straight-edge razor and this is the suicide note ("all for nothing" she keens on the first song, "all for nothing"). And the sounds themselves, the music, graf
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-music
This is probably the single strongest book I've read in the 33 1/3 series. Wheaton strikes an excellent balance between smart, wide-ranging formal analysis and open praise. His attempts to tease apart the individual sounds that go into making the dense, dark, beautiful world of Portishead's music made me rush back to listen to each track of Dummy over and over again, and marvel at just how remarkable their work is. But what is even more impressive is how he successfully shows the resonances betw ...more
Petty Lisbon
The parts about samples and inspirations were mildly interesting but there was too much about samples and the actual making of the music for casual fans to keep up with all of it. I liked some of the new things I learned about the band.
Jun 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music-nonfiction
It's more of a 2.5 but it's okay. It felt like some of the chapters covered similar territory (The production/sampling/instruments used in the album). I admit I don't know the album that well, so it was kind of hard to appreciate the book talking about specific samples or moments. I enjoyed reading about the 'legacy'/copycat effect of the album.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very in depth look at Dummy, from Portisheads beginnings, to recording and dealing with success. I liked that the following two albums were discussed as well, even if only briefly, as it made it a rather complete story.

There are a lot of interviews with fans talking about how the album touched them at various points in their lives, and for the most part these are interesting, though occasionally a little hamfisted.
James Almond
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Probably the longest in the series and a little bit on the technical side but worth a read of you're a fan of the album. Based on the US version so includes a lot about a track not on UK release (it was a b side).
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best in this series. Such an absorbing read.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I usually like this series, but just couldn't get into this one. I didn't finish it, but did listen to some of the Portishead contemporaries, so not a loss at all.
Brian Kovesci
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: music
The curse of this series is its greatest offering; a unique perspective with free reign to write about one of the author's favorite albums. A majority of the books in this series focus on the artist, the process of creating the album, the culture of the time the album was released, its reception and its influence while weaving into the mix anecdotes and gloating. LOVELESS and IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA do this perfectly. The risk readers take with the 33 1/3 series is the author's creative li ...more
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, music, 5-star
I found this to be an astounding insight into the album, and I really was not expecting it.

At first I was concerned by the layout of the book, as each chapter is split into bite-sized paragraghs, and I really wanted to just sit down and read something with more meat to it. However, as I got on with the book I gradually came around to the style. It actually works really well, with various sections (all subjects being listed at the beginning of each chapter) describing outside influences, people's
Peter Smith
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dummy might be my favorite album of the '90's. In an era of overwrought grunge and too-cool-for-school indie rock, this album of moodily atmospheric trip-hop stood out and still holds up for me while others fade. These 33 1/3 books can be a bit of a mixed bag and while this one covered all the main details on the members, the recording techniques and the history of the band, I feel like the author just would touch on those subjects and move on to his next thought. There were some tangents on the ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Dummy" was one of those albums I found as a teen that completely altered my musical course in life. It was 1995 and I was subsisting on a steady diet of heavy guitar rock. The album came out of nowhere and showed me how you could accomplish the same intensity without walls of feedback and distortion. I was forever changed.

I've been an avid reader of the 33 1/3 series for years, and this was one I'd been waiting for for some time. The book really gets to the roots of the album and offers some gr
Patrick McCoy
Aug 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
33 1/3: Dummy by R. J. Wheaton is another compelling read about the seminal album from the British band Portishead. There's lots of detailed information about how the record was recorded and the impact of the album and the context of the scene from which it came from. I was a big fan of the short-lived triphop genre, in that I have an affection for other bands from the genre like Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, and Morcheeba. I enjoyed going back to the album to hear what Wheaton was describing. ...more
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While Wheaton's style, specifically his fondness of sentence fragments, can be a bit irritating, that doesn't stop this from being the best in the series I've read so far. Wheaton provides a really thorough mixture of song analysis, information on the creation of the album, and the context it was created and released in. His attention to detail within the songs themselves is impressive, and brought a lot of things to my attention I wouldn't have thought about or noticed otherwise. The methodolog ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a great asset to the series, if a bit unfocused (assuming the 241 pages didn't give it away, which is a whopping behemoth by Continuum/Bloomsbury standards). But I know no one who will be unserved by this book. It's a great insight into the band's creative process, the British hip-hop/downbeat scene, the themes of isolation and communication that run rampant across the album, crit think, and just first-rate gear porn. Also it reads very quickly for its length.

I'm thinking of doing a blo
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 33-1-3-series
From the beginning this book had me hooked; I love the historical aspect of the union of bands and scenes. That being said, it got a little bit tired after a bit, seemingly going over itself again and again. I guess I just lost my love for it by the end. Perhaps some appropriate editing would do the trick. All that said, it did make me want to go back and listen to the record again and again, so it's a success in that manner.
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about this book and "Dummy" isn't even one of my all time favorite records (I still like the album a whole lot though). Its stream-of-consciousnesss-like approach makes it an enjoyable and diverting read while also reflecting on a lot of the qualities that made "Dummy" such a great piece of music.

All in all, this is probably my favourite 33 1/3-issue so far (next to Jordan Ferguson's amazing book on J Dilla).
Aug 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book could have been a list of bullet points with facts about the album, and I would have loved every page since I love this album so much. Instead, it was a long winded soliloquy in which the author tries desperately to call attention to himself. It starts out with several pages talking about the theremin, then sort of ties it into Portishead, then reveals that Portishead didn't actually use a theremin on the recording.

What a missed opportunity.
Jan 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Lately the 33 1/3 series have been surprising me with the high quality of the research involved and Wheaton's book on Portishead's Dummy is no exception. I think it's the thickest book in the series and it's definitely the most informative. This one is up there with the Neutral Milk Hotel and Celine Dion books - it is one of the must haves.
Dragan Nanic
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 33-1-3
One of the best books in the series. Minutely detailed, makes you listen to every song again and again, hearing things you never heard before. Plethora of other music references that just make you run to your music system. Together with insightful pieces of interviews and fan statements.
And above everything else, great read.
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Two 9 hour trains trips, an MP3 player and a stack of books.
I completely expected to rotate through a number of books as my attention span waned while the train chugged along. But no, I devoured this one book through 18 hours and cannot count the ways and times I rediscovered an album I was already a big fan of.
I enjoyed every. single. page.

Dec 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The kind of musical creativity that went into this album is fascinating to read about, along with the personalities who made it. Such a strange creation to become so popular. Though the purple prose describing the music becomes overwhelming and repetitive.
Michele Cacano
Way too detailed. Did not need the history of the Bristol scene. Seemed repetitive in its assessment of song breakdowns, second by second, instrument by instrument.
Gary Egan
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