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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2009
It took months of repeat listenings whilst decorating my house to fall in love with Portishead's previous two albums - dangerous considering I was on a ladder and the doleful pessimism was unrelenting. It was the siren of Beth Gibbons' unmistakable voice that finally won me over.

This album has been a long time coming, and when you listen to it, you can feel it. A slow, inexorable sound which feels like the last decade or so has been taken, kicking and screaming, and forced into musical form. It's actually very visual music, every track seems to be motion-picture-like, as though it should be accompanied by a widescreen TV, although its doubtful you'd enjoy the movie.

All the songs are stark, crazy and metallic, like biting down on a fork, they'll thrill you in a painful way. I'm not sure there are words for this music, but:

"Threads" has something of This Mortal Coil's "Fyt" about it, a daze of slow-building intensity, its finale the musical equivalent of a spotlight roaming across an empty prison yard.

"Machine Gun", a song for a warzone. It's hard to imagine any other voice being able to hold its own, so naturally, against such music. And I love the ending, which to me has shades of Vangelis crossed with Brad Fiedel's original Terminator theme.

But "The Rip" is my favourite on the album... the light-fingered opening and the old-fashioned feel which has a flawed thickness about it that makes you feel like you might be playing an old vinyl copy... This song is such a peaceful moment that it's like overhearing a lullaby:

Wild, white horses
They will take me away
And the tenderness I feel
Will send the dark underneath
Will I follow?

And would Portishead follow? I don't think they could have gone in any other direction except out there on this dark, stricken limb.

The purest art - as is commonly known - provokes the strongest reactions. This album was always going to be an inevitable matter of love or hate.

Love.
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on 25 February 2009
Having waited eleven years to return with such a highly anticipated third album, one could be forgiven for thinking that Portishead's 'Third' would be anything other than a shattering disappointment. For many of the band's dedicated following, questions as to how relevant Portishead could be in 2008 were sure to be raised. Furthermore, doubt was also bound to be cast over the possibility that they mightn't be able to recapture the essence of what made them such a unique band in the first place. With expectations of unprecedented scope, Portishead have somehow managed to create an album of such staggering brilliance as to render any preconceived doubts, ridiculous. 'Third' displays a significant development in Portishead's sound, whilst maintaining the underlying elements at the heart of their two previous albums. A concoction of electronic experimentation, tribal drum beats and Beth Gibbons' hauntingly fragile vocals, make for Portishead's darkest, most tension-fuelled album to date. Opener `Silence' sets the tone with a repetitive drum section and sparse bass allowing Gibbons to take full focus with typically introspective lyrics and delicate delivery. `We Carry On', arguably one of the band's finest achievements yet, adopts a similar approach, utilising tribal sounding drums to create almost unbearable tension, before reaching an epic, guitar-led chorus. `Machine Gun' shows Portishead at their most experimental. Centred on a menacing electronic drum beat, the track provides one of 'Third's' most distinctive moments, producing an atmosphere quite unlike anything they have previously released. In fact, `Machine Gun' may be seen as a bold statement of intent, given that it was the band's comeback single, albeit with an extremely limited release, the song clearly serves as a reminder that Portishead are not a band content with playing things safe.
'Third' also has its quieter moments; `The Rip' highlights the band's more melodic sensibilities via subtle acoustic guitar and vocals, while the eerie `Deep Water', perfectly placed between `We Carry On' and `Machine Gun', offers a moment's respite from the sonic abrasion of the tracks it lies between.
The one minor criticism that could be levelled at Third is the occasionally muddy sound of its production. Whilst the lo-fi production techniques at work here are well suited to most of the tracks, there are moments, such as on `Plastic', `Small' and `Threads', in which the overall clarity of the instrumentation can be slightly lost. However, such imperfections are easy to overlook in light of this most spectacular of comebacks. Let's just hope we don't have to wait quite so long for album number four.
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on 20 May 2008
A lot of people have a lot goodwill towards Portishead. Me included. I loved the first two albums but when I first heard Third I was a bit disappointed and found it pretty irritating. But I've listened to it several times, and it's grown in a way the previous two didn't. There are some really inventive, edgy, quirky, clever moments on 'Third' to songs stopping, to using unusual instruments, experimental percussion. If anything, the first single, Machine Gun, is one of my least favourite songs. Third starts off with radio voice over bubbling up, music getting faster, more intense, Beth Gibbon finally coming in and then - silence! There are some beautifully dreamy moments like 'Hunter' and one of the standout tracks, Threads. For me the final three songs are the best. Threads, just mentioned, but before that the Doors-esque Small and then the in-your face Magic Doors. I can imagine a few listeners not even making it to these songs, but it's really worth giving Third a few repeat listens. It's unpredictable and sharp. It is a harder work than the first two albums, but it's really rewarding. Cutting edge stuff. Well, done, Portishead!
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on 16 December 2008
Reading the one star reviews, two things struck me:
1. Lots of them have listened to the album once (some not even once all the way through). Like all the great albums, this is a grower.
2. Why do they want more of the same? Frankly, 'Portishead' was an insipid rehash of 'Dummy'. 'Third' is a massive leap forward.

Album of the year.
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on 7 August 2008
Just had a read of some of the other reviews for this album. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, could I please ask that you doubters out there give this wonderful piece of music a chance.
Portishead have tried something a little different from their last studio albums and I think that they have come up with something magical.
If you havent got into it straight away, it may be one of those albums you forget about for 6 months or so, and then find it hiding under a copy of "master of puppets". If this is you, I urge you to listen again with clear ears to "we carry on", "machine gun" and "threads". You might just find that it was worth the wait.
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on 14 May 2008
I own the previous albums and the common feature of both is that there are some truly great and timeless songs on both, but the rest of the albums is only average.

With their latest offering, we again get some great tracks (on a par with Mysterons, Roads, Sour Times etc), but the overall standard is higher than the previous albums and, as a result, Third is an album I will be able to listen to again and again in the future, something I've struggled doing with the other two.

The album starts off with a belter. Silence is on a par with the previous openers, with its high tempo beats, strings and guitar backing.

The next two, Hunter and Nylon Smile, are two of the weakest tracks that I would call fillers. The former is slow and quite dull which climaxes at the end but it's not really enough. Nylon Smile is better with its African sounding drums and Asian strings.

The Rip is one of the album's four great tracks. Eighties sounding synthesizers with Gibbons' trademark vocals provide a melancholy feel with a great ending.

Plastic is classic Portishead and could easily feel at home on one of the earlier albums. There's a bizarre knocking sound in the background that works brilliantly. It's the kind of innovative production we come to expect from Portishead.

We Carry On is my favourite, probably of all Portishead's tracks. A fast stuttering beat, alarm-sounding guitars and a real sense of urgency make this one of the few tracks that has blown me a way in recent months.

Deep Water is an awful barbershop song that really doesn't belong here.

Machine Gun is one of those love it or hate it songs. I personally find the drums too heavy and actually find it irritating. It ends well though. As someone said, it sounds like something from the Terminator films.

Small and Magic Doors are both useful additions to the album, and the closing track, Threads, is the fourth of the 5-star tracks and a fitting ending to the album. It's not dissimilar to the closing track on their debut album, Glory box, and every bit as good. A cool mellow track with those very Portishead-esqe guitars and a simple yet effective beat.
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on 2 June 2011
Throughout the decade interval between Portishead's self-titled second album and Third, it seemed impossible to imagine what a follow-up would sound like, or if it was even possible. The Portishead LP locked in the band's sound, established its boundaries, to such a degree that there seemed to be no way of creating anything that could be labelled as a Portishead song, without ending up with More of the Same, which, with each passing year, seemed a less appealing solution. So the stalemate went on, until we assumed they had disbanded. Then suddenly we had Third, and a band staking their reputation on something new, something colder and more foreboding, and yet still recognisably the band that brought us Roads and Only You. So it is possible!
Commendably, the album is more experimental, but not pretentiously so; the atmosphere has changed more than the music, retaining all of the darkness of the first two records but stripping away the lushness, the comforting ennui, and leaving only the bleak and black. The result is awesome, but will alienate totally those fans for whom '90s Portishead was already the darkest thing in their collection.

Machine Gun is the big talking point of the record, a thought experiment on the definition of a song in the manner of Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek, almost a game piece with very simple rules, the fastidious ploughing of a narrow furrow. No matter what variations appear, the same resounding robotic grinding locks the groove back in place; the sound of Wrong.
Nonetheless there are equally difficult bits and pieces throughout the record, and the lead single is not so much of a sore thumb as it first appears. Plastic is wound tightly around a wonderfully unsettling sample akin to the sound of a slow-moving propeller; We Carry On potters along on a wheezy inconsequential two-note riff that sounds like a blown reed laced with grit, before the track deploys an off-key monotone clang each time the tension builds, finally releasing with a little fuzzy slab of guitar delivered in the manner of Nine Inch Nails. It sounds like a call to arms in the face of dire adversity, albeit one borne of a bloody-mindedness devoid of any hope or belief that things can really be changed for the better.
Beth's voice has never sounded more beautiful or expressive than on The Rip, accompanied by a spare first-take nylon-stringed arpeggio, later swelling into a quietly humming synth accompaniment and basic beat. It is the record's most moving and accessible moment, though the mood doesn't lift perceptibly from the chill miserablism that characterises the album as a whole.

There seems to be not a little glee at the prospect of this record disappointing the Hampstead/Islington crowd and spoiling the trendies' dinner party, perhaps with a feeling of reclaiming a great band that had been subject to unfortunate niching. The amusing upshot of this is that Third is now subject to an unusual abundance of poor reviews, most of these reviewers trying to account for their dislike of something challenging by defensively accusing it of being too trendy, the word used with self-explanatory derision. I would have been even more thrilled if Third had come out around 2000, as, despite being a huge leap forward (and to the side, and in all directions at once), its lineage is still clear, but Third greatly expands Portishead's range, meaning that the possibility of a fourth album, while the question of what it will sound like remains as much of a conundrum as it was with Third, can be met with a far greater optimism for its quality and reach.
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on 9 August 2011
Portishead released two very successful albums in the 90's and then disappeared for 11 years to concentrate on solo careers. After such a long absence, it was inevitable that there would be some changes to their musical style, but they have managed to maintain their distinctive dark and edgy sound which is noticeable on all of the tracks. The change is more in the feel of the album, which is less smooth and much more creative and experimental, ensuring that the listener pays attention throughout the record. It is very difficult to fit this album "Third" into a particular genre as each track seems to lend itself to different disturbing sounds and melodies.

"Silence" is a dark and fast paced creation, with eerie sounding strings. "Hunter" is a haunting track with Beth's unique vocals being the focal point. "Nylon Smile" has a strong catchy beat and interesting arrangements. "The Rip" is just Beth and a guitar at the start which adds to the songs' character once it builds into a dark dance and electro pop orientated track. Only "Plastic" can be compared to compositions from their album "Portishead", released in 1997, with the familiar drum rolls but then it rapidly changes into a sombre collection of experimental noises. "We Carry On" seems to be a straight forward dance tune, but then transforms itself into a rock and punk influenced stomper. "Deep Water" is a very weird but interesting folk influenced interlude and is followed by the highlight of the album, "Machine Gun", which is a very powerful and disturbing song with intense repetitive rythyms appeased by Beth's soft yet plaintive vocals. "Small" has very intruiging vocal arrangements for the first three minutes and then builds into a funky 70's Woodstock style rock instrumental before repeating itself in the second section of the song. "Magic Doors" is probably the easiest track to understand as it has a simple funky rythym and an easy melody to follow. "Threads" is the next best song here and has slow verses and an infectious rocky chorus.

This is such a creative and chilling album that you are forced into revisiting it time after time, merely to try and understand what it is actually about, which is very refreshing. A very original release. Welcome back Portishead.
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on 5 October 2010
This was the long-awaited third album from Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley, who as Portishead created one of the key albums of the mid-90s in Dummy. Unfortunately its `trip-hop' sound became the soundtrack to `cool' dinner parties, `helped' (is that enough inverted commas?) in no small way by the BBC TV series This Life.

I saw Beth Gibbons touring in 2003, and I must admit she was a little precious, shutting the bar during the performance, which had the effect of trying the audience's patience, only thinking of when would the gig end and where would they go afterwards?!

How relevant would Portishead prove to be, 14 years on from Dummy in 2008? Opening track Silence starts with some disembodied voice speaking in Spanish (I think) before a cacophony of sound is unleashed, dispelling any preconceptions that this was to be anything like Dummy. It's a skittering, claustrophobic, dark block of sound which sets the tone for the album. Two minutes later Gibbons' tortured voice enters the mix, battling against eerie keyboards, stabs of distorted guitar and insistent percussion. It's a breathtaking track and anything but `chill-out', with a forlorn guitar joining the maelstrom before it ends abruptly.

Hunter is a sort-of torch song, reminiscent of Beth Gibbons' Out of Season album, and on more conventional ground for older fans of Portishead, though it's interrupted by sound effects searing through intermittently which conjure up a plane taking off. All the while Gibbons sounds as anguished as ever, and strangely enough it works beautifully.

Nylon Smile is not quite as strong as the opening 2 tracks, consisting mainly of pulsing electronica, but The Rip is a highly engaging lament built around a guitar figure which evolves into a keyboard progression. Gibbons sings "White horses, they will take me away," and it sounds kind of menacing till the keyboards take over the track, concluding it pleasingly.

Plastic features what sounds like a machine rotating and stop-start rhythms, but then We Carry On takes the pace up several notches, insistent electronica with a pounding beat punctuated by some almost Sonic Youth-ish guitar riffs and effects. It's an alarming track, almost military with its relentless march, and light years away from Dummy. I can only imagine what it's like live.

Deep Water which follows is totally jarring. For one thing it's only a minute and a half long and sounds a whole lot quieter than anything else on the album. It features Beth Gibbons voice and what might be a ukulele, and she's joined by a kind of doo-wop chorus, making it sound like a relic from the early part of the last century.

Blowing this out of the water is the completely bonkers Machine Gun, which has drums and keyboards combining to produce a machine-gun-like rhythm with Gibbons' voice bolted on and air raid siren-like keyboards. It's probably the hardest track to get into and I'm not sure it entirely works, though it's interesting nonetheless.

Small sounds like a quieter, downbeat track until keyboards crash in after two and a half minutes as the song grimly lurches along. Magic Doors ominously follows, before the closing Threads, which is maybe a little reminiscent of the better tracks from Dummy where Beth Gibbons sings her little heart out about how she's "always so unsure". The whole thing ends with more air-raid siren style keyboards.

I couldn't listen to this album at first. I put it away and revisited again later. So glad I did. Forget `trip-hop', this album is wonderfully inventive, and if anything the band are closer to Radiohead circa Kid A. It's a thing of wonder.
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2011
I wish I could relive the first time that I listened to this on my headphones. Rushing back from the record shop almost frightened that it wasn't going to live upto expectations. But it does it so does! Portishead have channeled dark metal, post rock into their mixer and produced art. Beth Gibbons voice is incredible riding over the drone and beats. Although their influnences appear to be American this is English music at its zenith.
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