On Small he revives the spirit of Syd Barrett as he thrashes his echo-laden six strings against an organ raga. The cinematic quality of their work remains, but despite Portishead's trick of sounding like they come from hellish '60s spy movie there are signs they've listened to what's been going on over the last few years.
Ironically this often means that Third comes over as very post punk. Squelchy analogue synthesizers are a big, repetitive but almost totalitarian presence. Third is also full of alarming juxtapositions. While they still employ the devastating trick of Gibbons' wail descending into a maelstrom who could have seen them turning out the 'jolly' ukulele-driven fever dream of Deep Water?
On Hunter the electronics intrude into the mix like a piece of Len Lye's abstract celluloid cut into a Bergmann movie. And the 'noise' at the heart of the only track that could be considered danceable - Magic Doors — will keep sound engineers perplexed for years. In fact, in ten years you'll still probably be hard pressed to find anything that sounds remotely like Third: Unless they make another album. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you choose to use this review on your site please link back to this page.
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving. Home Clips. Quieter numbers, like the slow-build electronic ballad "The Rip" or the softer moments of the cabaret highwire act "Hunter", highlight the fragility in her voice. And since almost every song on Third addresses some sort of emotional or mental helplessness-- typically a deep and profound sense of loss and isolation-- it's almost as though this shift in sonic identity is there to mask the fact that this is an incredibly bleak record lyrically.
As for how the music itself has changed, long story short: Third is a psychedelic rock album. It opens with a rhythm that's nearly twice as fast as almost everything else Portishead have done, the percussion on most of the songs is frequently muffled or buried under layers of noise and sometimes just stops short of being non-existent though it's heavy and propulsive when it does make itself known , and their keyboards and strings have graduated from relaxed tension into dissonant rumbles and shrieks.
There's a brief acoustic folk song "Deep Water" , an abrasive and jittery electro-industrial number "Machine Gun" , free jazz horns "Magic Doors" , analog freakouts from the United States of America-fueled early days of electronic psych "The Rip" , and a song that sounds a bit like Clinic's droning, rhythmically dense garage-kraut, except somehow spookier "We Carry On".
Portishead as you previously knew them are represented, barely, by the last song on the album-- the sleepwalk-paced, David Axelrod-esque "Threads"-- and even then, its intermittently fuzzed-out tension-and-release dynamic would've made it one of the harshest-sounding songs on Dummy or Portishead.
You could say that this would be unrecognizable as a Portishead album without Gibbons' voice, and you'd be sort of right; guitarist and contributing songwriter Adrian Utley mentioned in a recent New York Times article that one of the rules they set for Third was that they couldn't fall back on any instruments-- or even any trademark sounds-- that they'd used on previous albums.
But their style here isn't particularly out of character, comparatively experimental as it is; Utley's guitar still twangs sharply when it's not doing things like interjecting "Iron Man" growls in "Hunter" or splintering into Syd Barrett-isms at the coda of "Small", and the melodic identity that he and Geoff Barrow built on a foundation of minor keys and sinister grandeur still holds sway. She even admits as much in the opening lines of 'Nylon Smile': 'I'd like to laugh at what you said but I just can't find a smile.
The album's first single, 'Machine Gun' takes Portishead's minimalist aesthetic to extremes yet still manages to sound epic, pitting Gibbons's haunted vocal against a metallic beat. There are moments of lightness, but the prevailing mood is of a group who have succumbed to a riptide of dour emotion. Never has a pit of despair sounded so inviting. The Observer Pop and rock. Portishead, Third.
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