Dummy is the debut album by English band Portishead. Released in August 1994 on Go! Beat, the album earned critical acclaim, winning the 1995 Mercury Music Prize. It is often credited with popularising the trip hop genre and is frequently cited in lists of the best albums of the 1990s. Although it achieved only modest chart success overseas, it peaked at No. 2 on the UK Album Chart and saw two of its three singles reach No. 13. The album was certified gold in 1997 and has sold two million copies in Europe. As of September 2011, the album has sold 825,000 copies in the United Kingdom and is certified double-platinum.
Building on the promise of their earlier EP, Numb, Dummy helped to cement the reputation of Bristol as the capital of trip hop, a nascent genre which was then often referred to simply as "the Bristol sound". The cover is a still image of vocalist Beth Gibbons taken from To Kill a Dead Man—the short film that the band created—for which the self-composed soundtrack earned the band its record contract.
The album spawned two singles in addition to the already released "Numb": "Glory Box", which reached No. 13 in the UK singles chart; and "Sour Times", which reached the same position on re-release in 1995. "Sour Times" achieved moderate success in the US, reaching peak positions of No. 5 and No. 53 on the Alternative and Hot 100 Billboard charts, respectively, in February 1995. On 3 December 2008, Universal Music Japan released Dummy and Portishead as limited SHM-CD versions.
NME summed up the record by saying, "This is, without question, a sublime debut album. But so very, very sad." It observed, "From one angle, its languid slowbeat blues clearly occupy similar terrain to soulmates Massive Attack and all of Bristol hip-hop's extended family. But from another these are avant garde ambient moonscapes of a ferociously experimental nature." The review concluded that "Portishead's post-ambient, timelessly organic blues are probably too left-field, introspective and downright Bristolian to grab short-term glory as some kind of Next Big Thing. But remember what radical departures Blue Lines, Ambient Works and Debut were for their times and make sure you hear this unmissable album."Melody Maker stated that the band "were undeniably the classiest, coolest thing to have appeared in the country for years... Dummy, their debut, takes perfectly understated blues, funk and rap/hip hop, brackets all this in urban angst and then chills it to the bone." The review described the record as "musique noire for a movie not yet made, a perfect, creamy mix of ice-cool and infra-heat that is desperate, desolate and driven by a huge emotional hunger, but also warmly confiding... Most of us waver hopelessly between emotional timidity and temerity the whole of our lives and Dummy marks out that territory perfectly."
Q described Dummy as "perhaps the year's most stunning debut album" and proclaimed that "the singer's frail, wounded-sparrow vocals and Barrow's mastery of jazz-sensitive soul/hip hop grooves and the almost forgotten art of scratching are an enthralling combination".Mojo said that "Portishead make music for an early evening drinks party on the set of The Third Man. There is nothing kitschy about them either... Beth Gibbons' voice has a genuine chill to it, and Geoff Barrow's background soundscapes are worthy of Lalo Schiffrin and Nellee Hooper."Rolling Stone said, "From tape loops and live strings, Fender Rhodes riffing and angelic singing, these English subversives construct très hip Gothic hip-hop... Assertive rhythms and quirky production, however, save Portishead from languishing in any cosy retro groove. Instead they manage yet another – very smart – rebirth of cool."
Retrospective reviews of the album also praised it highly. AllMusic said, "Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold... Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances."BBC Music called it "quite simply one of the greatest debut albums of the 1990s" and said that "the constituents that make up much of this collection are easily traced – back to dub, to soul, and especially to hip hop; the array of scratch effects, loops and samples... But it's the manner in which the pieces come together that makes Dummy special to this day... Imitators have come and gone, but no act has reproduced the disquieting magnificence conjured here except Portishead themselves."
^Entertainment Weekly (11/18/94, p.108) – "...mixes cocktail keyboards, spaghetti-western guitars, eerie tape loops, and dub-wise rhythms into what could be called `acid cabaret'....as musically compelling as it is emotionally chilling..." – Rating: A-