Portishead – Third

April 25th, 2008
Goto comments Leave a comment

Ten Divided by Three

From 1994 to 1998 the Bristol, England trio Portishead released three stunning LPs of sad beats and atmospheres that helped establish the trip-hop genre. Sadder still, afterwards they gradually retreated from the musical landscape. Music snobs might be loathe to admit this, but Portishead’s extended absence may have helped kill trip-hop as much as their presence helped birth it. Portishead’s new album Third doesn’t really sound like it took 10 years to make, and it’s going to at least remind you of the best of their past, but it also leapfrogs over the trip-hop label towards the future.

The trembling diva stylings of Beth Gibbons and the instrumentation of Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow remain cloaked in the trappings of film noir. For those keeping score at home, 1994’s landmark Dummy could have represented spy-movie love scenes; music from their self-titled 1997 album would fit dramatic expositions, with protagonists sneaking around for clues; their 1998 live orchestral experiment PNYC might recall themes under opening and closing credits. On Third, however, Portishead embrace musical aggression and confrontation to create sonic familiars of the archvillain’s reveal, the torture scene, the chase scene.

With the exception of her Grace Slick turn on album closer “Threads” Gibbons’ delivery is as airy as ever, so she doesn’t immediately suggest conflict unless you picture her as the damsel (or 9-year-old girl) in distress. Her lyrics do, though; lines like “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this” cut a swath through “Nylon Smile.” The most drama is found here in Utley and Barrow’s production, which hits the ground running on “Silence.” Possibly a defiant commentary by Portishead on their career path, this first track starts with a Portuguese lecture on karma coming back to you threefold and ends in the middle of a measure, as if cut off by a car crash or a gunshot.

Outside of an obvious presence on “Plastic,” the hip-hop sample mining that once defined the trio’s sound is kept to a minimum. In its place we find new equipment in the Portishead arsenal. There’s the Sun Ra-esque sax break amid the dour cowbell funk of “Magic Doors.” We hear chugging krautrock momentum in “We Carry On” and dark tropicalia in “Hunter.” First single “Machine Gun” is full of impossibly heavy pads, while psychedelic rock and folk color “Threads” and “Deep Water,” respectively.

Piled high with these disparate influences and palpable tension, Third is a significant departure from the cool, calm, suave feel that defined Dummy and Portishead. Some longtime fans likely won’t call this a trip-hop classic by virtue of it reaching near-Tricky levels of impenetrability, claiming there are such things as being too dark, being too complex, trying too hard. We suspect many other fans won’t call this a trip-hop classic only because there’s no real trip-hop to be made anymore, and will instead just call this a classic, period.

Search for Portishead albums on Amazon

By Adam Blyweiss Posted in Reviews

Related Portishead Content:

An Interview with Anika

Portishead Tease Release Of New Album, Sign To Unannounced Major Label
Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury Announce Collaborative Album DROKK Inspired by Mega-City One For May 2012 Release
Portishead at Work on New Album
I’ll Be Your Mirror Festival Acquires Additional Acts and Ticket Option
Quakers a New Band Featuring Portishead’s Geoff Barrow Announces Self-Titled Album For April 2012 Release
Rock en Seine Announces 2014 Lineup Featuring Arctic Monkeys, Portishead, Queens of the Stone Age and More
New Portishead Track for Amnesty International
Melt Festival Announces 2014 Lineup Featuring Portishead, Moderat, Royksopp & Robyn and More
Portishead Back in the Studio
ATP Asbury Park Announces More Acts: Ultramagnetic MC’s, Mogwai, The Pop Group and more
All Tomorrow’s Parties Announce 2014 Lineup Featuring Portishead, Interpol and More
Geoff Barrow Says Phantogram Sampled Him Without His Permission
The Weeknd Samples Portishead Without Permission In New Song
Portishead Announces Vinyl Reissue of 1994’s Dummy
Portishead’s Endless List of No’s For Upcoming Album
Beth Gibbons of Portishead Announces New Solo Album, First In Over A Decade
Grinderman Confirmed for ATP “I’ll Be Your Mirror” Event
New Portishead Live Video “Machine Gun” Feat. Chuck D
Glastonbury Announces 2013 Lineup Including Arctic Monkeys, The Rolling Stones, Portishead and More
LISTEN: Beth Gibbons and Gonga Release Cover of “Black Sabbath”
Portishead Plans To Create New Music After Next Tour
Portishead Announce Summer 2012 European Tour Dates
Electric Picnic Announces 2014 Lineup Including Portishead, OutKast and Beck

Portishead Live at the Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles (Review, Photos & Set List)
Portishead Live in New York 10/5/2011
Portishead – Third

Top Story
Portishead Announce North American October Tour
All Tomorrow’s Parties Presents I’ll Be Your Mirror in New Jersey
Portishead Confirm I’ll Be Your Mirror