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94. Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man – Tom the Model

21/09/2009

94 This was billed as the Portishead frontwoman’s “solo project” upon its release, but really it was a new start. After all, to have a side project, one ought also to have a full-time band on the go, and by the winter of 2002, Portishead had lain dormant for five years and their dinner-party trip-hop was something of an anachronism. It’s in that context that Tom the Model, more than any other track from Gibbon’s LP, sounded so invigorating. While the rest of the album busied itself with Nick Drake-inspired songs not unlike a pared-down Portishead, Tom the Model spun along on a Memphis soul groove all of its own design. Gibbons’ familiar lyrical touchstones of heartbreak and despair were still on full display, but the orchestration, like something out of Stax’s 1960s songbook, was a revelation. All buzzing hammonds, soft staccato horns and swooping strings, this suddenly made those uniquely icy vocals sound warm and energising. It was a huge, welcome change from a Portishead – and Beth Gibbons – that had begun to age so badly.

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