Portishead – ‘Third’

June 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, May 15, 2008.

Third

Portishead
Third
Island/Universal

A post-hiatus record is often cause for alarm, especially when it arrives via the creative loins of the Bristol scene. Massive Attack’s half-decade-in-the-making 100th Window was one of the most eagerly awaited, mythologised and ultimately fraught records in recent memory. In the context 1998’s epic Mezzanine – let alone the wondrous Protection (1994) or the certified classic Blue Lines (1991) – it was also one of the most disappointing. We can only shudder at the potential monstrosity Tricky has up his sleeve.

So it’s with great trepidation that Bristol fans await Third, iconoclastic trio Portishead’s first studio album since 1997’s self-titled sophomore (which was of-course followed by a live recording in 1998). From its first grit-scarred vignette, through its dense analogue discord, austere skeletal melodic drifts, and visceral, gut-wrenchingly psychological finale, Third will prove nothing but a revelation to even the most hardcore of Portishead admirers. Jeff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley are at the absolute top of their game here.

Third is deep, engaging, textural listening – lurking with urgency and pain and noise and glacial beauty. The sheer intensity of closing track ‘Threads’ defies description, while ethereal sketches like ‘Hunter’ echo with noir-like nuance and flow. But there are too many highlights to mention. Not even lurking opener ‘Silence’, the stunning ‘Nylon Smile’ or the jarring industrialisms of ‘We Carry On’ and ‘Machine Gun’ do Third justice as a whole.

Nothing will ever replace the quixotic elegance of 1994 debut Dummy, but nor would you expect or want it to. It had a time and a place and a context. Nonetheless, Third may well just be this otherworldly trio’s most fully realised piece of musical syntax to date.

It is a record intoxicated in atmosphere and personal paranoia – a record of indelible signature, grace and burning, rippling suspense and human emotion. It is Portishead, not only revisited, but reborn, re-imagined and redeveloped. Like in 1997, Barrow, Gibbons and Utley leave us hanging, brooding and begging for more.

Dan Rule

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