Chris Black Changed My Life
Coming from a quirky alt-rock band that was already 13 years and eight albums into their career, the surprise billion-stream-club success of Portugal. The Man’s 2017 single “Feel It Still” was absolutely jaw-dropping. Quite literally: After two years of touring that single’s source album, Woodstock, bandleader John Gourley was sidelined by an excruciating jaw injury that left him unable to sing. But that setback was merely a warm-up for the ever darker days that lay ahead: Since Woodstock’s release, Gourley’s 11-year-old daughter with bandmate Zoe Manville was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, various other members battled addictions, and the group’s close friend and occasional onstage hype man Chris Black passed away in 2019. But while the album that bears Black’s name in tribute was born out of darkness and death, its sound is brimming with lightness and life. In the spirit of self-help psych-pop touchstones like The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin, Chris Black Changed My Life confronts the fragility of human existence with a guileless grandeur and an overwhelming beauty. The go-go-dancer grooves of “Grim Generation” provide an instantly engaging entry point into the record’s weighty themes, but it soon becomes clear that Chris Black Changed My Life harbors greater ambitions than to follow “Feel It Still” onto wedding dance floors. Supported by an all-star cast of collaborators befitting their newfound A-list status, Portugal. The Man shows themselves to be the only band that could corral Kanye producer Jeff Bhasker, The Roots’ MC Black Thought, Phantom of the Paradise star Paul Williams, and fellow indie-reared oddballs Unknown Mortal Orchestra into a cohesive cinematic vision, while a radical interpolation of Edgar Winter’s 1971 ballad “Dying to Live” on the climactic set piece “Champ” reaffirms this band’s special gift for updating classic rock for the modern world.