Dusty Springfield / Portishead

Dusty Springfield
The Dusty Springfield Anthology
Mercury Records

Portishead
Portishead
Go! Beat/ London

IT SEEMS THAT these days everybody's got a stalker. Nonchalantly revealing one's stalkee status is now a socially acceptable way to let others know you're interesting. Let's face it: You're nobody 'til somebody stalks you. If you're late to the trend, try juxtaposing the eponymous Portishead and the Dusty Springfield box set for a sonically delectable dose of recklessly declared unrequited love--and the corrosive internal obsession that comes with it.

The Springfield box traces the 1961-1995 ascent of Dusty the gutsy Londoner (née Mary O'Brien), from the peaceniked folk of the Springfields to the Spectorized girl-group numbers that alienated folkie fans, to the torch-pop tunes penned by the likes of Bacharach/David, Goffin/King, and Randy Newman. Whether Dusty was fronting as a smoky femme fatale, a rust-belting Detroit soul sistuh, or American po' white trash, she was famously relentless in her quest to make you her man.

By voicing verboten neuroses we've all been schooled in not admitting, Springfield crystallizes weakness (and breaks on through it) powering home one doormat anthem after another in a torrent of hook-heavy songs that read like the co-dependency section of a DSM-IIIR. But to reduce hits like "Wishin' And Hopin'," "I Only Want To Be With You," and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" to little more than the stuff of pre-women's lib self-subjection is to miss the point entirely. If her songwriters laughed themselves silly trying to render love's blindness, Dusty both got the joke and respected the darker truths of the lyrics.

Set against the hits churned out by Dusty's rack of hired guns, Bristol depressives Portishead seem a mite short on melodic device and pop construction. If Portishead studio mole Geoff Barrow could have ordered up B sides like Dusty, he might have been able to stave off the writer's block that tormented him for two years after his band's 1994 noir-hop sacred text, Dummy. This year's Portishead finds Barrow shaking off pressure to top his first effort. He goes with what he knows: jamming, looping, pressing to vinyl, sampling, re-pressing to vinyl, and crooner Beth Gibbons's stalker-chic vocals through the resulting mix.

As before, Gibbons singes more than sings. On the opening "Cowboy," she writhes inside the squeaky dumbwaiter to relationship hell, issuing a futile, almost biblical plea to a lover, "ooh, take these things from me." The studio tour de force "Half Day Closing", stealthily modulates between fear and desire, employing Aqua-manic sonar, moog, twang guitar, and vocals shirred with space echo. The '60s-film-score-inspired "All Mine" recalls the anxiety of Bertolucci's Il Conformista, with Gibbons jumping to jarring pitches usually reserved for violently sawed violins. "Humming" is another exquisitely cinematic treatment, and there's nothing like the suggestion of a camera to augment the stalkerine intensity of Gibbons's gaze. With the edgy creep of the cobra from Rikki Tikki Tavi, Gibbon intimates, "If you felt as I, would you betray? You can't deny how I feel. And you can't decide for me." Appropriate to our nervy age of surveillance, neither Dusty nor Portishead has much respect for your personal space. They confront, pervade, seep, and clutch. Bet you had no idea you were so loveable.

 
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