Portishead – Third
Any album that’s been more than ten years in the making is always going to have a huge level of expectation heaped on it. Portishead’s third album, imaginatively entitled Third, comes 11 years after the release of the group’s eponymous second effort. Always ahead of the game, Portishead seemingly retreated into the margins, as their unique sound, a blend of beats and cinematic samples, became seemingly ubiquitous. Now after a long period of silence, Third does sound like a Portishead album despite sounding totally different from their previous two albums. It still maintains a dark and foreboding atmosphere, but there’s some interesting diversions into newer territories.
The main difference is that the samples and origins of the songs are more hidden than before. On the first Portishead album you could hear the sample base for a track really clearly, which wasn’t a bad thing. But on Third, the songs sound like the product of an actual band. The opening track “Silence” is a good example of this, with it’s clattering drums and distorted guitar line. “Machine Gun” is maybe the biggest departure from Portishead’s trademark sound, all harsh beats and juddering synth stabs. “Small” oscillates between a kind of 60’s proggy rock and psychedelia but the effect is jarring.
A dark and somewhat muted atmosphere is prevelant throughout the album; “Hunter” and “Nylon Smile” have a woozy melody and muted drums. “Plastic” is pretty hard going, with Beth Gibbons vocals especially icy. “We Carry On” is especially mechanical and harsh sounding, until it fizzes into life with a echoing guitar riff. Sometimes, it’s a little hard to see through the murk, but there are some comparatively lighter moments. The end of “The Rips” has a warm burbling synth line towards the end which rescues the song from bleakness. The ukelele and barbershop vibe of “We Carry On” is a little silly though. Third isn’t a bad album, but it’s not engaging me right now. Previous Portishead albums were all growers too, but parts of Third feel unessicarily heavy and dirge like.
Portishead – Machine Gun: