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Song of the Day: Portishead, “It Could Be Sweet”

The melancholia of love from yet another direction…

Portishead, “It Could Be Sweet” – from Dummy (1994)

I don’t want to hurt you,
No reason have I but fear,
And I ain’t guilty of crimes accused me of,
But I’m guilty of fear.
You don’t get something for nothing,
Turn now,
Hmm gotta try a little harder,
It could be sweet.

That’s it in a nutshell – fear driving us apart, fear of intimacy and commitment, of “the thoughts we try to deny” – of loss of autonomy, of the safety of our solitary lives… Where Dar Williams turns away, already alone, Beth Gibbons asks her lover to “turn now” – turn back and “try a little harder” – or is it her that she is encouraging to try harder? Both.

Sadness and spareness, the stripped down sound somehow conjuring those moments, way past midnight, when you’ve been struggling back and forth across the distance of a couch, or a bed, and you realise that while “it could be sweet,” it is isn’t going to happen –  “you’re leaving … life ain’t fair.”

This terrific song wasn’t even one of the singles from Dummy, which were “Numb”, “Sour Times”, and “Glory Box” – all great, particularly “Sour Times,” but this remains my favorite track on the album.

And what a great album! My stepfather has given me a lot of great gifts over the years, but most of them have been of the obvious variety, and great mostly for being expensive. Every now and then, though, he rocked up with something unexpected and surprising, perfect for me – like Dummy, which he gave he as a sort of side present one Christmas. How did he know I’d love it so much? He probably read a glowing review in The New Yorker or New York Times. If that’s the case, I’d like to thank that review now – long overdue, but heartfelt.

I’m not the only one who had his hosiery forcibly removed by this record. Some of the other accolades heaped on it:

  • Ranked 419 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
  • Included in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
  • Ranked #35 in Mojo’s “100 Modern Classics.”
  • Included on Neil Strauss’ The New York Times list of the Top 10 Albums Of ’94.
  • Ranked #29 in The NME “Top 30 Heartbreak Albums.” (see here)
  • Ranked #42 in Spin Magazine’s “90 Greatest Albums of the ’90s.”
  • Ranked #14 in the Village Voice’s 1994 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll.

(via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Note its inclusion on NME’s “Top 30 Heartbreak Albums” – the mood I’m in, I am clearly going to have check out the rest of this list. I wonder what’s #1?

Okay. Tomorrow a change of mood, I promise – songs that I listen to when I need to cheer up, maybe dance around the yard in my underwear…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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