Portugal. The Man, Woodstock | Album Review
Alternative band Portugal. The Man delivers a consistent, superb eighth studio album with ‘Woodstock.’ “Feel It Still” is the crowning achievement, but there’s much more to love.
Alternative bands are rarely associated with big hits on pop radio. Few can assert they earned a top-five hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Portugal. The Man are one of the few to earn such distinction, thanks to “Feel it Still.” Somehow, over years and years of reviewing a variety of music, this long-time Alaskan-born, alternative band NEVER crossed my radar. Woodstock, their eighth studio album, nearly suffered a similar, shameful fate. Nonetheless, January 2018 is the gift for music critics everywhere to play catch-up, and Woodstock is certainly a deserving recipient.
The groovy “Number One” kicks off Woodstock in thrilling fashion. The record samples the famed Richie Havens Woodstock performance “Freedom,” masterfully blending it in with the band’s original music. It also features Son Little. John Gourley delivers a strong vocal, with a vintage sound matching the mostly vintage-sounding production work. The chorus ranks among the best moments.
“Easy Tiger” has a tough act to follow, but plays out well. Gourley continues to deliver vocally, particularly the falsetto. Continuing the vintage sound, there’s also hip-hop influence, namely the soulful, dusty drums and a variety of production and vocal effects. “Live in the Moment” offers some of the clearest vocals of Woodstock, following distorted, high-effects-driven performances on “Number One” and “Easy Tiger.” Like the previous two numbers, the groove is infectious, with pummeling drums leading the charge.
“Feel It Still”
“Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now / I been feeling it since 1966, now / Might be over now, but I feel it still.” As aforementioned, Portugal. The Man have bragging rights with one of the grooviest, infectious songs of 2017. “Feel It Still” features crisp, clear, vintage production work that’s nothing short of a treat. Gourley delivers sensational, light, airy, and agile high-pitched vocals. Reminiscing rarely comes off this excellent.
‘Uncle Mo’ (quoting Dick Vitale) doesn’t let up on “Rich Friends,” which goes ‘full throttle’ from the start. Once more, pummeling drums are a prominent, inescapable feature of the production. The guitar riff, and of course the vocals, stand out as well. Portugal. The Man “Keep On” going strong, bringing back the signature 60s distorted vocals. Once more, production is a selling point, this time led by a robust bass line, drums (as opposed to programming), and thoughtful synths. The chorus is simple, but irresistible.
“Got me thinkin’ ‘bout it / All day long / (‘Til we’re dead and gone) / …Bangin’ my head against the wall / All day long / Bangin’ my head against the wall.”
The production of Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is instantly apparent on the soulful ballad “So Young.” While the pace slackens, “So Young” stills possesses the groove, cleverness, and swagger that characterizes Woodstock as a whole. The lower, middle register of Gourley’s voice is quite alluring. Falsetto is still intact as well, adding the “cherry on top.” Mike D handles the production on the hip-hop-soul-driven “Mr. Lonely.” Like the records that precede it, groove “rules the roost.” Additionally, there are pitch-shifted vocals, characteristic of the urban music palette. For good measure, rapper Fat Lip closes things out, dropping some bars.
While penultimate “Tidal Wave” is less ‘hip-hop dominated’ than “Mr. Lonely,” the influence is still clear, particularly the beat and select cues. As consistent as everything else, “Tidal Wave” is sound, but not a personal favorite for whatever reason. “Noise Pollution,” another Mike D production, closes out Woodstock in intriguing, meaningful fashion. Portugal. The Man get the assist from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as well as Zoe Manville. Manville appears throughout the course of the album as a backing vocalist. Highlights include the theme (questionable times), unique production, and some French lyrics.
Somehow, Woodstock slipped through the cracks in 2017. Had it not been for megahit “Feel It Still” drawing my interest, Portugal. The Man and Woodstock may have never graced my ears. That would have been a total shame as this is a fine alternative album. While “Tidal Wave” may have been my least favorite, it was consistent – above average by all means. “Feel It Still” is the crowning achievement, but it’s not the sole gem.
Gems: “Number One,” “Feel it Still,” “Rich Friends,” “So Young”