Super Cool Singles: “The Rip” by Portishead – among the most beautiful songs I’ve heard

 

Genuinely haunting, dark, and meditative, “The Rip” speaks a deeply unhappy narrative of lost love and the bitter aftertaste of regret and grief. The instrumental begins stripped back, a lone acoustic guitar punctuated with chilly synths, and the obvious centerpiece: Beth Gibbons’ incredibly affecting voice is piercingly genuine and tender. The first three lines, along with our barren instrumental, communicate much in imagery:

“As she walks in the room
Scented and tall
Hesitating once more”

Gibbons lingers on each phrase, enunciating meticulously the weight of each word – our character, the woman, walks slowly into frame, where some aching pains of loss, previously felt, return “once more.” The next few lines switch into the scope of “I,” either the previously mentioned “she”, or perhaps some other man or woman, an ex-lover.

“And as I take on myself
And the bitterness I felt
I realize that love flows”

“I” describes the “bitterness” of their lost love, but also a growth in character; after “taking on” the resentful feelings towards their relationship, and reflecting on their own shortcomings, they realize that “love flows” anyways, that through the turmoil and suffering felt, they still feel the ability to love. The chorus captures the emotional core of “The Rip,” the longing desire for relief and freedom from inner grief, or “the tenderness I feel.”

“Wild, white horses
They will take me away
And the tenderness I feel
Will send the dark underneath
Will I follow?”

Uncertainty colors the last phrase, where “I” questions if they will be “taken away” from this state of emotional “tenderness,” or if they will end up spiraling into some even-lower nadir. White and dark contribute as contrasts, driving further the two potential paths that “I” sees themselves in.

Sonically, Gibbons’ voice is achingly sincere and communicates a very human sense of emotional vulnerability. The synths do their job, too, almost as a kind of robotic contrast to the rawness of the vocals, and end up developing into a low, warm-sounding melody that accompanies Gibbons’ higher-register voice.

I love “The Rip” because it tears my heart out. Gibbons’ vocals are gorgeous, the synths are gorgeous, the lyrics are gorgeous, and the song is a gorgeous, mature expression of loss and that swell of feelings afterwards. There are also no wasted sounds in this song. “The Rip” is rather simple, comprised of just vocals, a single acoustic guitar, synths, and some drumming. But it’s truly Gibbons’ performance that convinces us of the human element of inner turmoil, and the sincerity of it is what makes “The Rip” such a relatable and understandable depiction of the wounded feeling of some bygone, previously cherished, love.

Evan Jiang

Junior CS Major bashing my head through these projects until they work. I like writing about music! And occasionally movies and video games and life and the gym and whatnot. Maybe I should write something about Computer Science. Am I qualified to talk about any of these? Nope! But hopefully later on I will be!

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