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Third is, as the name suggests, the third album by Bristol band Portishead, released in 2008, eleven years after their self-titled second album. In some ways they stuck with the distinctive Portishead sound, and in others they sounded completely new and different.
Opening track, the ironically titled Silence, begins with a deep male voice speaking in Russian; this leads into a pulsating track with electronic beats over a steady drum. Hunter mixes speedy beats with slower guitar riffs, while Nylon Smile has a more folky atmosphere. The Rip has a slow, eerie quality, while Plastic is dominated by drums and electronic sounds. We Carry On has a relentless industrial quality, while Deep Water, the most cheerful-sounding song on the album, is almost Disney-like in its simplicity.
Machine Gun is relentlessly thudding while Small begins with a haunting, funereal quality that develops into something that sounds like the Clangers on acid, with added electric guitars at the end. Magic Doors has an exotic, hippy quality, while Threads sounds more like traditional Portishead - albeit with overlaid electronic sounds and a rousing percussion-laden chorus.
All through the album, Beth Gibbons' haunting vocals add a further layer to the tracks. The music on this album, like that of the first two, still has a cinematic quality - dark, atmospheric and almost depressing at times, it really gets into your head.
Third is a really unusual album, but a great one. I don't listen to it very often as I have to be in the mood, but when I am I am struck by how good it is. It's haunting and atmospheric. I recommend this album - give it a chance to grow on you and you might be pleasantly surprised.
3. Nylon Smile
4. The Rip
6. We Carry On
7. Deep Water
8. Machine Gun
10. Magic Doors
Portishead took their time in relaesing "Third" - the release prior to Third was Portishead by Portishead back in 1999 - but it seems that they have spent the time wisely, honing their sound. I do not think that any fans of Portishead would ever expect them to be universally loved or to create music that everyone enjoys. Their music is challenging, much in the same way Amnesiac shook us to have a rethink about the dircetion of music generally.
The album admittedly does take a good few listens to really grab the imagination. There are some obvious immediate stand out tracks - The Rip is both beautiful and haunting while Machine Gun is oddly instantly likeable and annoying at the same time! But it is typical Portishead, extremely distinctive and experimental.
Silence' sets the tone for Third with a repetitive drum section taht is used often throughout and contains the sparse bass that allows Beth Gibbons to take full focus with typically introspective lyrics and delicate delivery.
Beth Gibbons voice is stunning and fits the context of the album perfectly. The sound is cinematic and beautifully produced, sounding uncluttered but with enough depth to draw you right in, and deserves to be given enough time to be enjoyed.
The album as a whole gives the impression of a dark existence and one not to be enjoyed. It is a turbulent album for turbulent times. It is not a clone of Dummy and is definitely a move away from straight trip hop, but still retaining the unmistakeable mark of Portishead. 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.
Among the first to bring Trip-Hop to music lovers, Portishead also put their hometown of Geoff Barrow on the British map. Many of us had never heard of the shipping town before they came along.
They take their influence from bands like Tricky and Massive attack and I really think that this album goes back to those roots but with reminiscent air of darkness and a tinge of malice (you will hear what I mean in the introduction track 'Silence'.
Beth Gibbons' vocals in this album are still as strong and haunting as they have always been and she really does help to drive the intent behind the music home to the listeners.
Although I really didnt like Portishead (their second album) I really like Third almost as much as I love Dummy. It has a real deep eerie Nick Cave feel to it, filled with wanting and danger. The feel of the album is dark, heavy and moist like a spooky underground cave. Steel guitars and open drums gives this album a really Twin Peaks like edginess that can make you feel slightly jarred from reality but only in the most sublime way.
In a drunken stupor I decided this album was like Jelly for the Soul and I stand by that rather inexplicable explanation confident that once you give it a try you will see what I mean.
The group certainly took their time to deliver this one. Fans waited over a decade for the return of the gloomy threesome, but the wait was rewarded with an album of sheer brilliance.
The lead single was 'Machine Gun' which used Beth Gibbon's haunting wailing vocals over electronic drum pads, arranged to sound like a machien gun going off. It is not easy listening yet is strangely addictive, building to a soaring and shocking climax, which made me think of Terminator, with those eerie synths.
On a lighter note, 'The Rip' is calmer and more composed. Starting with an almost folk like feel before building to a French disco esque affair.
The gripping 'Silence' will make you grit your teeth and pause for thought at Gibbon's shadowy vocals.
Totally original, uncompomising and not necessarily an easy listen, but very essential. The production is as tight as you like and the vocals are as resonating as they were when they opened their 'Glory Box ten years ago.
Verdict: Own it, be educated
After a decade in the making, Portishead returned with their eagerly waited and anticipated third album, appropriately titled Third.
Taking a step back for a decade really helped Portishead perfect their art, and are now pretty much untouchable and stand as one of the best bands in Britain.
While Portishead were known for their unique take on the "trip-hop" sound for their first two albums, in Third they delivered something very different and original, yet didn't stray away completely from the old sound they are renowned for.
The first single from the album was 'Machine Gun'. having a sort of industrial/avant garde sound to it, with it's chugging beats and machine gun sounds and Beth Gibbons' beautifully haunting vocals ever present.
The album's other key upbeat track is 'We Carry On', which takes you on a musical journey through the solar system in your mind, although Beth's vocals sound a bit like they were crafted to fit in with the pace of the track and sound a bit odd in places.
'The Rip' is a mellow haunting track of pure melancholy, 'Small' is a devastating unnerving track with some of the vocals almost sounding like chanting.
The best thing about this album is how it flows perfectly as an album and the tracklisting is arranged perfectly, and this makes it increasingly difficult to pick individual favourites, it's something that must be appreciated as a whole.
This album is a true triumph, and cements the important status Portishead hold in music.
Oh, but it's been a long, long wait for all us PORTISHEAD fans.....many of us no doubt thought another album would never be forthcoming but, 11 years after we last had a studio album, here we have a treat for sore ears in the guise of THIRD; the aptly named third album that is in fact the fourth from the band if you choose to include the live album recorded in New York with a full-scale symphony orchestra.
So, has it been worth the wait? It would be easy to say no after such a notable absence but in fact, I actually am starting to really, really like this and think it is a contender for their best album yet. There were many of their fans who initially were not keen on their self-titled second album, but the thing you have to remember about PORTISHEAD is that they are constantly re-inventing themself and their sound and that their individual style, always experimental, aims to be different every time! To compare everything they do to their first album, DUMMY, is to do them a tremendous disservice; who else can say they were responsible for the creation of a whole new genre- the term TRIP-HOP was first coined to describe their unique and revolutionary music much to the bands' dis-taste.
My first experience of the new album was getting to see the group perform their new single, MACHINE GUN, on Jools Holland's show though their appearance was fleeting and right at the end. Watching it on BBC I-PLAYER, I actually sat through their set twice and decided I really liked what I was hearing. It's a good thing as well that I did watch it as their new single has had very little air-play on any of the mainstream radio stations that I have heard!! PORTISHEAD though are reknown for their disregard for publicity; preferring their music to be appreciated for itself not shameless self-promotion.
So, yes I know, you want to know more about the actual album right? Well, it all begins with SILENCE which opens with a thumping, bass-laden drum beat that really sounds like it doesn't belong on a PORTISHEAD album right up until 2 minutes 32 when BETH GIBBONS trademark sultry, voice kicks in with nonsensical lyrics that nonetheless set the tone for what is to come. One of the strongest tracks on the album in hindsight, my initial response was " yeah, I like it but it's not the PORTISHEAD I know.." which, as I have already explained is exactly the point. Right from the start, GIBBONS, BARROW and UTLEY who make up the band, are keen to show that,in the time they have been away, they have matured, evolved and indeed grown into a very different animal to that whom we last saw.
HUNTER, the next track, is by contrast a much simpler, more gentle melody reminiscent of BETH GIBBONS' solo album with RUSTIN MAN with it's folk-inspired roots that echoes the music of MAZZY STAR and the vocals of lead singer, HOPE SANDOVAL. This leads onto NYLON SMILE, another subtle number where GIBBONS sings "I don't know what I've done to deserve you.....and I don't know what I'll do without you" which can almost be interpreted, with a little imagination, as a nod towards the groups' loyal fans and the patience they have shown.
THE RIP comes next and is another of my personal favourites whose catchy influence resonates in the head long after the song is over and the next track begun. Reminiscent of something by GOLDFRAPP but slightly slower paced, it's haunting sound sums up everything this album, described by some critics as extremely dark, is all about. This is GIBBONS' voice at it's absolute best and sums up everything that is right about PORTISHEAD'S latest offering.
Following on from the bizzarely titled PLASTIC and the equally mysterious number, WE CARRY ON, comes DEEP WATER; described by many fans as their own favourite track from the album but which, for me, is woefully too short before another strong electro beat and pumping backing track heralds the arrival of the first single, MACHINE GUN. This is as about as different from anything else that they have done before as PORTISHEAD gets whilst still feeling echoingly familiar. Contradiction seems to be what PORTISHEAD do best, and this, in my honest opinion, is a good,sound choice for the bands' relaunch even if exposure has been minimal!!
The final three tracks, namely SMALL,MAGIC DOORS and THREAD, all serve to act as a fitting close to the album and brilliantly bring the whole listening experience of THIRD to a beautiful and contemplative end. I don't want to say much more about them because I feel that part of the enjoyment of listening to a new album is the journey of discovery that the listener goes on as they attempt to make sense of the lyrics, but suffice to say, the album's climax lives up to all of it's potential and leaves the listener wanting more which is always a good sign. It is disappointing that there is no secret track and that the album ends when it does, just as it's getting going it feels, but then PORTISHEAD has never been a band that needed to rely on cheap gimmicks in order to promote their music and if this third studio offering has a slight cult-status feel about it, then that is surely no bad thing.
To be fair, on first play I wasn't sure what to make of this album but having heard it several times now (the album has not been out of my car in the three weeks since I bought it) I am definetly hooked. It is a bit of a grower that you may or may not get first-time around but compelling, continued play is a good sign of an album's longevity. I remember not really understanding quite why I liked DUMMY the first few times I heard it, just knowing it was a very weird but brilliant album (the only two tracks I was really comfortable with were the singles, SOUR TIMES and GLORY BOX) and it took several repeated listens before it became one of my top, favourite albums of all time and listening to THIRD is a similar experience. In essence for me, it is like discovering PORTISHEAD for the first time all over again.
So do I like it? Yes, I do.....very much so!!
Is it a memorable album? Well, only time will tell how successful it is but I think this is an album with real, long-term potential that will please old and new fans alike. It's inspiration from artists such as MAZZY STAR and GOLDFRAPP are blantantly clear but with that unique PORTISHEAD mix that makes their sound their own. But where ALISON GOLDFRAPP comes across as a blonde temptress forever beyond most men's reach, BETH GIBBONS emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon of sultry, new-age electro-indie-trip-hop; the girl next door you always fancied but never quite got up the courage to ask out. With the voice of an angel, she is the true genius behind PORTISHEAD and this latest studio album does nothing but compliment and showcase just how much talent she possesses and how well the three key people that make up this elusive band, BETH GIBBONS, ADRIAN UTLEY and GEOFF BARROWS, work together to produce a sound the like of which no other collaboration can achieve!!
If you are new to this band, check them out and I envy you the enjoyment of discovering PORTISHEAD for the very first time!!! If you are a long-time fan, go into this newest album with an open mind and as little previous conjecture or preconceptions as you can manage. More importantly, listen to it a few times before you cast your final judgement. And finally, don't listen to anything else that anyone else has to say aboout THIRD, not even me. This is very much an album you have to make your own mind up about.
Me, I predict it's the best album I will hear all year and everything and more that I wanted a new PORTISHEAD album to be....
It's been a long time since the name Portishead really meant anything in the music industry 11 years in fact since there last new releases, and ten since their live in NYC album. But back in 1994 Portishead had such impact on the music industry with their album Dummy and subsequent short movie To Kill A Dead Man, that you can almost believe they have never been away at all. After the disappointment of their album the self titled Portishead it was hard to believe that anything could match up to the power of Dummy.
When Geoff Barrow (producer/song writer for Portishead) recently turned up in my hotel I had to explain to my staff exactly the power of Portishead all of whom had never heard of the band or so they thought. Having played Dummy to them later that night they for the most part all confessed that they had heard almost every score from the album, I was asked what had happened to them, explaining I did not know. The following day however I was taken aback with the announcement that this legendary band were soon to make a staggering return, how would I feel about the impending album Third?
I could spend the next few paragraphs telling you the wonder of Portishead in their long awaited return album but I'll spare you. This self proclaimed "Trip Hop" band who mix contemporary sound with almost classical movie soundtrack style scores have an incredibly distinctive sound, and the music from Third is no exception to this rule.
As a whole I cannot say I am impressed with Third, there is a lot of stuff that sounds out of place, wrong in fact for today's market; while time has moved on it seems Portishead have stayed still with a very 1994 sounding album, I guess almost attempting to recreate the magic of Dummy. Now off the back of this statement however it may come as a surprise to hear me say (or at least read me say) that if you enjoyed Portishead then you will love this album, and if you like your musical styles a little wider reaching the same applies, because while 9 of the albums tracks are fairly dated 2 absolutely "rocked" in my opinion and support my purchase 100%.
Silence - The first score on the album is like a time travelling exorcise to the Portishead I knew and loved, the best way to describe this is "Thumping"; yes this a highly repetitive score, going over the same few guitar and drum beats over and over again, almost to the level that you could believe the devil has just arrived in your room. Two minutes in the haunting sound of Beth Gibbons arrives, singing quite frankly bollocks, sorry for the harshness of my words but this is a true fact, yes she sounds great but for the most part her ramblings are either an attempt to be on a higher intellectual plain than you, or at least to paint the perception that she is. But it's that haunting score that then comes back to the forefront that I love so very much; it's an angry malevolent piece that screams "I'm here, I'm the daddy, I'm taking no prisoners!" At just over five minutes of running time, the intensity and addictiveness of this piece of music make it pass in a heartbeat..."BANG" its gone, and rather abruptly too.
Hunter - This was what caught my attention this past Monday as I entered HMV, this is so very typical Portishead, Beth singing almost like she is breathing her last breaths. This is a haunting score as she twists and convults her voice in a stark contrast to the backing music, I know this does not sound good; but believe me this is the thing that makes this score track sound so phenomenally good. "If I should fall, would you hold me, would you pass me by?" The lyrics make far more sense this time, although there is a rather a lot of contradictions, but this is Portishead surely making this acceptable? "I wanted a rise, and space me in ties" yes I'm not hearing things! I love the fact that at the end of each verse there is this nice ditzy noise that sounds like 60's TV villains weapon of destruction being activated. There is something so incredibly addictive about this track, I replayed it again, and again, and again.
As the two opening pieces of the CD, I was overwhelmed by the album, sadly the follow up is less substantial and if I might be so bold, quite repetitive, tedious, and a little bit cocky. Personally I find the strength and power of Third in these opening scores, but as the album continues it's almost like Barrow and co musician Adrian Utley have gone hope leaving Gibbons quite literally to play with herself.
Fourteen years ago Portishead had justifiable right in being cocky, every score from Dummy has been used for something movie promotion, television show trails, adverts, and the abysmal Big Brother. Fourteen years on and the influence of Dummy still is frequently heard Mysterons and Sour Times being the most commonly used. And while Dummy still influences, Portishead the second album was a disappointment and a disaster, and Portishead are seemingly wanting to you forgive, and forget that album hoping you'll still believe them to be Gods. In my opinion they need to regain their trust with the public, and if the first two scores were a reflection of the album as a whole then they have the right to come back cocky. While I enjoy the first two scores, more so in fact than anything I have heard for maybe as long ago as years, this is only about 15% of the albums output, not really good value. That being said the album scores high in my book; welcome back Portishead just don't get your big heads jammed in the door.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Nylon Smile
4 The Rip
6 We Carry On
7 Deep Water
8 Machine Gun
10 Magic Doors