on 29 April 2008
Portishead's eponymous second album sounded like they'd spent the years since their debut listening to their own music, and as such, was an often chilling and minimalistic exercise in distillation and refinement. By the same token, it also made any further venture in their distinctive style artistically redundant.
As a result, Third is necessarily a different animal. The sound is at once broader and more claustrophobic. Gone is the scratching and heavy sampling, but still with us (thankfully) is the distinctive and imaginitive percussion work. Dark grooves are rendered uncomfortable listening with the addition of high sustained synth tones. Gibbons's vocals are as ever full of shame, doubt and regret at things she's done or not done, but occasionally a little more upbeat and direct. The album in general is uneasy listening, often beautiful, often noisy, often obtusely changing direction at mid-point or ending suddenly - "Silence", for example, cleverly clips out just as its proggish coda starts to get self-indulgent.
There is even comedy here, too. Yet the ukulele-led (yes really) "Deep Water" is possibly the most disturbing song on the album - hearing Gibbons sing about not being afraid makes one wonder who she's trying to convince, and she comes across as tragically deluded. The song works as a palate-clearer too: the deliciously torturous drumming of "Machine Gun" is all the more punishing for following such whimsy, and its despondent Morricone-esque synth coda is a welcome surprise. "Threads" is a perfect ender, with that enormous, plaintive bass pulse radiating across the landscape like the cry of some wounded Lovecraftian leviathan.
How tempting it would be to set up a lounge ensemble, a Rhodes piano, two turntables and a heap of percussion, stand Beth Gibbons up in front of them and have her wail torch songs until her heart bled. How brave it is, then, that Third is so unlike that concept that it isn't even the opposite of it, it's some kind of unfathomable fourth-dimensional tangent.
on 22 May 2008
A decade in the making. So, we were expecting big things: and did it deliver?
Mention the name Portishead and you immediately associate the seductively haunting vocals of Beth Gibbons and a mix of music, known as Trip Hop or "The Bristol Sound" and you have 2 albums, both of a similar vein in the form of Dummy and Portishead.
So was Third more of the same?
No, and I'm delighted to say that, as even more repetition would have meant me wasting money on this album. Instead, we were treated to an album which could be compared to marmite itself. Loved by some, hated by others.
This album has gone for absolutely no middle ground whatsoever, almost making it sound as though the team have taken their every whim and put it into this album. At times we are given prog rock (Small), other times a riff that could have come straight out of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop, Pythonesque halting of tracks, and a track which as you listen to first sounds simply bizarre yet fast becomes addictive (Machine Gun). In between this can be found the familiarly haunting voice of Ms Gibbons and the trademark stylistic of the band.
If you are looking for a clone of Dummy (as some fans almost seem to have been hoping for) then you will be sorely disappointed.
It is a new century, and overall Portishead have introduced several new sounds to their repertoire: they are even more raw, edgy, and once you get over the initial surprise of the change, an absolute delight.
On my first listen I wasn't convinced, I thought that they had aimed too much at a niche. On my second it began to grow on me and I realised that it really is a very cleverly written album. Now it is an essential album in my collection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
on 10 May 2008
When I first spun up this album I have to admit I was disappointed. After such a long gap, thoughts of a radical change of direction are furthest from the listener's mind- we just want to be back in that student bedroom in 1997 listening to "Elysium" whilst we get stoned out of our minds with our campus buddy. And I fell into this trap instantly.
After hearing "Machine Gun" I was intrigued enough to want to recreate the 90s by being able to sit down and listen to a new Portishead album. That was an experience in itself.
"What is this?!?" I asked myself- and you should know I'm no stranger to disjointed 'uncomfortable' music, being a fan of the likes of Autechre, Aphex, Joy Division, Zappa- and I felt a little disappointed. I assigned it 3 stars in my head, but thought I was being generous. I found it even more paranoid, fractured and the soundtrack to the bleakness going on in Gibbons' tortured mind than their last one- and whilst I was in awe of this, I wasn't getting that so bleak it lifts you up vibe at all.
But I persisted, and on about the third listen it came alive. In horribly vivid black and white, like Bergman on acid. There it all was: the unmistakable Portishead sound- buried, certainly, but it was there under the rubble; this was Portishead in the 21st century- the Dark in the darkest of times; the suffering of man, the encroaching paranoia; the suffocating hopelessness that threatens to engulf us all if we let it; but also there is fight, there is anger- this is a militant record.
A more uncomfortable and yet rewarding listening experience cannot be found at the moment. It is this paradox that makes "Third" a serious contender for album of the year already, and perhaps the most successful 'comeback album' of any band in the last couple of decades, arguably.
My favourite tracks are "Silence", "The Rip", "Plastic"; "Machine Gun" and "Magic Doors".
If you want something to put on whilst you and your wife entertain your friends, this is not it. If you want something that sums up the times, leaves you a little disturbed and exhilarated, then THIS IS IT.
Half a star deducted for the slightly-too-quirky/irrelevant "Deep Water". So I'm really giving it 4.5, even though I can't on Amazon.
on 15 May 2008
I'll start this review with a) a confession and b) a confession.
a) I have never heard Portishead's self-titled second album. I'll rectify this sometime soon.
b) I'm somewhat wary about writing my first online music review and giving the subject the maximum score available. But, my god, this record deserves it.
This is something that I've been contemplating for a while now. What makes an album great? Does every track have to be excellent? Or does it simply have to take you on a great journey? Or must it do both?
The signs point to the third answer. And the third answer is fitting of Third.
I can only imagine how long the 11 years since their last studio album have seemed to the Portishead faithful. Mostly because in 1997 I hadn't even discovered Blur yet. But it's most certainly been worth it.
Perhaps the most important thing to write here is this: Third WILL split opinions. And it has. But all it takes to love it is time. And a willingness to be uncomfortable.
To say that the record is bleak is to do it a disservice. I'd much rather call it pessimistic. This is Portishead on the march to an uncertain destination (personified by We Carry On). Indeed, the overall message of the album is unclear. It seems to have songs dealing with all the standard issues music can deal with. Paranoia (Hunter), love (Nylon Smile), death (The Rip), it's all here and it's all beautiful.
My first experience with this work was Portishead's recent appearance on Later with Jools Holland. Ever since that show, the drumbeat of Machine Gun has been firmly burnt into my brain, like the Arctic Monkeys' Fake Tales of San Francisco before it. On repeated listens, I'm starting to hear connections with Europe's The Final Countdown (because The Terminator theme was too obvious to mention), but don't let that put you off. There's Kraftwerk in there too
The writers of the negative reviews that can be found on Amazon clearly didn't listen to The Rip, a magnificent eulogy. I'm tempted to call it Track of the Year, but that would be too hasty of me. Let me simply say this: it's the most beautiful thing Portishead have ever created. Considering that the same group have given us the likes of Glory Box and Only You, that's quite an achievement.
So what of the `journey' that I mentioned at the start of this review? I'd liken it to The Sopranos. It's a journey that's simply too long and involving for one piece of art to show all of it. But one thing's for sure. I can't wait to see where they go next.
on 1 September 2009
Basically, I have two points.
1. This album is brilliant, Portishead progessing from the first two albums (3rd if you take into account Beth's stunning solo effort). If you like Portishead's earlier stuff or quite simply, even you don't know any Portishead, this band is'nt concerned with marketing, sold out world tours or top ten singles. They're musicians plain and simple. It's all about crafting a sound, just look at they're output. I wish more artists where like portishead and less concerned with media appearances etc.
Buy it now, you won't regret it!!! (even if you have to give it a few listens, nothing worthwhile is ever easy)
2. Anyone who as given this a 1 star rating, cleary knows nothing about music. I suggest they should dust of their Roxette and Extreme cd's and leave grown up music to grown up minds. This is Portishead experimenting and I think they've pulled it off. Power to them and Beth's vocals are awesome no matter what anyone says, ok, so it's either sultry or woefully styled, but that's what I like about it, if you want to listen to a singer, go and buy Susan Boyle's cd. This is art and it's great. Egotistal and self indulgent? maybe, but all the great creative people generally are.
on 30 May 2008
Nothing prepares you for this album, and I think this may account for a lot of the negative reviews, here. It's a brilliant nightmare of an album, akin to being trapped in a haunted house with an old girlfriend who has been possessed by the tortured spirit of a torch singer who committed suicide. Every time this person speaks, this broken, pained, impassioned voice pours forth, and no matter which room you run to, there's always something uneasy and unsettling to drive you onward.
I have fond memories of the first Portishead, caught them live a couple of times, and liked the second album but this...this is a whole new beast. Think of one of those nightmares you have when you think you recognise an old friend in the street, run up behind them, reach out to turn them round...and whatever it is, it's terrifying, but you can't look away.
Give it a go. But be brave. It will haunt you, I swear.