Portishead Promotes New Album, with Caveats

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Portishead: Adrian Utley, Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow

Not coincidentally, Portishead recently sent a message to fans about their new recordings.  In announcing their album, leader Geoff Barrow has told NME what not to expect from the band, and most of it aligns with the strict control over their image and music that has marked their career from the outset.  It’s not anti-industry as reported by Spinner.  It’s anti today’s wave of reality tv and the revealing 24/7 media culture.

Barrow was quoted as follows:

“There will be NO free downloads. There will be NO bonus tracks. There will be NO remixes. There will be NO hidden footage.

“There will be NO additional content. There will be NO corporate partners. There will be NO fashion lines. There will be NO tabloid pictures.”

“There will be NO £25 unit cost. There will be NO street team. There will be NO Myspace. There will be NO celeb producer. There will be NO Twitter.”

“There will be NO press/blogger gig. There will be NO acoustic session. There will be NO meet and greet. There will be NO edited version.

“There will be NO iTunes only. There will be NO press launch. There will be NO Asian version. There will be NO radio friendly.”

“Just music and us.”

“No extra tracks, no etc.” as quoted in NME, and later Spinner as being a reaction against the music business and its “strictures.”  In my opinion, Barrow’s positioning statement is very pro-music, and is in fact criticizing the culture of today’s music business, not the industry itself.  There’s a big difference.  The business are people who sell music.  The culture is made up of the fans and every other aspect of it.

When he says “no endorsements” that is not against the music business but the advertising business, who has taken advantage of music’s poor fortunes to get valuable associations cheaply, where they would have never existed before (see Bob Dylan’s add for Victoria’s Secret, which was viewed by producer Daniel Lanois in his book as “a hit,” but also something that never happened in the 30+ years previous since Dylan became popular.)

When he says “no free downloads,” Barrow is trying to inform the Napster generation that if they want to hear the new music, they will have to spend at least .99.  Having debuted in 1994, Portishead is in the wheelhouse of this demographic, who probably misinterpret their controlling nature as being “anti-industry.”  It’s actually “anti-publicity.”  Portishead has never catered to the media (I promoted their first three albums and set up maybe two interviews).

By saying “no backstage footage, demos,” he is resisting the trend where labels had to provide material beyond songs to make their packages more appealing to someone who might otherwise download an album for free.  This is not anti-industry, this is a remark against the culture of reality tv, and Portishead has always benefitted from an air of mystery.  It’s not surprising that Geoff Barrow is sending this message, and I look forward to hearing the band’s new music.

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