Best Songs 2008: 5 – The Rip

Portishead’s 2008 reinvention was very surprising and musically outstanding. The minimalist electronics played perfectly with Beth Gibbons’ haunting voice. But among all the haunting melodies and amazing deliveries was this – a real high peak standing above the other mountains. Such a distinction is quite a large feat, as the powerful mechanics of “Machine Gun” and the swirling scenery of “Plastic” both offer unique and exemplary sonic experiences.

So what makes “The Rip” such a winner? Part of the formula is the minimalism. Initially, only hushed electronic tones aid a light acoustic guitar in telling a tale of woe. Then, about halfway through, the drums kick in and a strong electric-organ replaces the guitar strumming. This continues through to the end as the song fades away. The transition period between guitar and electronics is very powerful and moving. Yet, the song offers a strange sort of compromise – as the volume increases, the ears expect the song to kick into a powerful conclusion. But this is where Portishead excels – they refuse to fit stereotypes, and contain the song (to an emotionally devastating effect).

And this is where Beth Gibbons must be mentioned again. As the music is so minimal, the vocals move to fill in the space. Gibbons has a full voice that sounds vulnerable and in pain. Memorable lines hold more impact with such a singer, and you will remember how she was left “disappointed and sore.” Similarly, the repeated refrain of “wild, white horses” serves to inspire and caution. Gibbons sounds alone and in need of help, only hoping to be taken away by the horses.

The impact of this song is tremendous, certainly outlasting its four-and-a-half minute run time. At any moment, the song can reenter the mind, with the amazing guitar and haunting vocals echoing days after the initial play. Even other artists have been smitten by the song – Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead have produced a cover of the song seen here. “The Rip” is amazing and everyone should experience this song.

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2 comments on “Best Songs 2008: 5 – The Rip

  1. maxedmands says:

    Aw, man! The embedded video doesn’t work. But I took a listen, and I certainly like it, and agree for the most part. I’m certainly a much simpler music fan than you, and (probably for that reason) a lot of songs by bands like Portishead, Massive Attack, Radiohead, and that ilk have confused me by how pared down they are. I only start liking them after I listen to them a lot of times over.

    I didn’t know there was a new Portishead album either; glad you posted on this song =D

    • Matt says:

      Ah! I guess I’ll try to find a better video (aka: one that I can embed without problems). Portishead’s newest album (Third) is precisely as you suggest – it’s a grower. It took me quite some time to really wrap my head around it, but now I love it. You’ll see more of my opinion about that record in the next few days!

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