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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Album Review: Portishead – Third

Most of the time, when a band falls off the radar for nearly ten years they are forgotten. Portishead is another story. As one of the bright young bands behind the Bristol Trip-Hop story, the distinctive and influential sound of Portishead simply could not be forgotten. After a productive hiatus where singer Beth Gibbons produced a little gem called Out of Season we are once again treated to a third Portishead album, mysteriously called Third.

A lot has changed in the space between for Portishead. Their iconic style from the 90s is cast aside for a new deeper and darker sound that almost harks back to Joy Division. Beth Gibbons sings with a warm confidence dipped in the melancholy only a woman could know. Geoff Barrow (the DJ dude) no longer uses samples from 60s jazz. Instead Geoff and third member Adrian Utely have created a vast landscape of beautiful music extracted from crappy keyboards and bent with synthesized drums. Let us be clear, this is not the Portishead we once knew.

To start off with, the first track ‘Silence’ is a surprisingly fast piece of work. The song shifts from chord to chord with pace, underpinned by a throaty guitar line. It would seem that Portishead have also mastered the sudden ending, as ‘Silence’ abruptly cuts off mid verse, giving way to ‘Hunter’ in a marvelously disorientating way. Songs from Third are deceptively hollow. At first they sound slow and laborious, but as they unwind they become intricate works that affect the listener as none of their earlier music did.

Their single ‘Machine Gun’ is almost boring in its melodic approach as well as it rhythm. The track grows, though, with complex dynamics melding to create a moving, provocative song.

Most tracks are a little challenging at first, but Portishead are doing something new and that is important to remember. One track really takes the cake – ‘The Rip’ carries itself like a dignified woman who has taken to living on the streets, yet still retains her strength.

The question isn’t how good this album is; it is so finely worked that every glitch is intentional. There is no sloppiness here, and no crap. Portishead are moving forward as a band and as a sound. The real question is, do you want to go where they are going?


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  1. Brunswick says:

    Tell us more of this “melancholy only a woman could know”?

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