Those of you who spent the 1990s hanging out in student union bars will recall just how unbelievably cool and trendy Portishead were. They were also groundbreaking in many ways, bringing what were effectively torch songs right up to date and making them edgy and relevant for a modern audience. One half of Portishead, the prolific Geoff Barrow has here teamed up with British film composer Ben Salisbury for an instrumental album supposedly “inspired” by the 2000AD comic book character, Judge Dredd. I had read somewhere that the intent was for this album to be used for the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster “Dredd” only for matters to be latterly shelved. I’ve no way of verifying that, despite my best efforts via that internet thing, so what we are left with is something of a musical curio- a soundtrack album for a film that actually isn’t a soundtrack at all.
Much of the music is clearly designed for a film- either a real one or one playing out in the febrile minds of Barrow and Salisbury. It has that sense of place, of incident and, at times, of drama and pursuit. Much of the time though, that sense of place is one that seems to be stuck in the cold, dark electronic days of the early 1980s. I blame Vangelis, you know. In listening to Drokk, which is clearly designed to accompany a futuristic, science fiction movie, you can’t help but spot the influence that the groundbreaking Blade Runner soundtrack has had on this, and indeed, all music associated with science fiction, of any sort.
In some respects, “Drokk” it is very modern, in others, it’s quaintly old-fashioned and a bit derivative. There is a distinctly early 1980s electronica feel to a lot of it- it reminds me of the work that Brad Fiedel did on the original James Cameron Terminator film- sparse, electronic and filled with menace and foreboding. Equally, there are echoes here of Jan Hammer and the work that he did on that other 1980s icon- the much missed Miami Vice. I was also struck by the echoes to the other Michael Mann work, the Hannibal Lecter movie, Manhunter. Television fans will doubtless be wondering whether Lawmaster Pursuit is actually a reconfiguration of the Knight Rider theme.
Fortunately for us, “Drokk” is not an out and out pastiche and, despite my criticism, there is much to admire here. There is, perhaps understandably, a European sensibility to the whole album- it’s all angles, nuance and inference. As a showcasing of talent for soundtracks, it is a pretty decent calling card and, most vitally, beneath the cold gloss of the electronic beeps and twirls, there still beats the heart of a man resolutely in love with the character and resolutely in love with the music he has created for him.