Portishead – Third

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Hardly a need to review this, one might think, but it does need saying: this is a bloody good album. I didn’t, I confess, have particularly high hopes for it, never having been that bothered by the Bristol trip-hop scene. That it so quickly became dinner party music for that lot was a black mark in my book.

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Portishead – Third


 


Hardly a need to review this, one might think, but it does need saying: this is a bloody good album. I didn’t, I confess, have particularly high hopes for it, never having been that bothered by the Bristol trip-hop scene. That it so quickly became dinner party music for that lot was a black mark in my book. With regards Portishead in particular, there was never any need to buy their albums as their music was as ubiquitous as Leftfield’s Leftism, Air’s Moon Safara, and, going back a bit further, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. You heard it whether you wanted to or not (and in my case not at dinner parties).


 


My memory of their music is that it meandered along nicely enough, but it hardly made one sit up and listen. Which Third most definitely does. I mean, at parts it’s industrial, it’s like My Life in Bush of Ghosts, like John Carpenter, like Joy Division…in short, it sounds like music I’d like to listen to, were anyone ever to make the mistake of inviting me to a dinner party.


 


It kicks off in top style with Silence. An insistent tribal rhythm and chiming guitar are joined by emotive keyboards. Percussion clanks and more discordant guitars join in. In fact it’s a shame when it all cuts out to allow space for Beth Gibbons’ voice. You know what to expect from Beth – smoky and plaintive, she gives it her trademark shtick. It’s not long though before the tribal backing returns and continues through until the song ends.


 


Hunter sounds more like the Portishead we know – languid and moody – but there are interesting keyboard runs and strange backward guitars. Nylon Smile has more backward effects and a nagging beat. The Rip seems to keep up the lazy mood of the previous two tracks but a brilliant Krautrock keyboard and basic drum track soon augment the plucked guitar. The keyboards end up being almost John Carpenter-esque.


 


Plastic has juddering drums and the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead. There are the sounds of electronic insects. We Carry On also opens with a tribal beat before a malfunctioning alarm and a jackhammer organ join in. It’s dark and disturbing and even features guitars imported from a Joy Division album. After the brief folk of Deep Water (complete with mumbled barbershop harmonies) we get the industrial beats of Machine Gun. As the track progresses it seems on the point of breaking down until finally it does, the keyboards bending and melting until eventually what sounds like the Terminator soundtrack appears.


 


And so it goes on – put simply this is a brilliantly dark album – it’s awkward and knotty and fascinating to listen to. In fact, the only aspect of the album that doesn’t always work is the vocals. And only in the sense that some of the songs could possibly have benefited from sharper, more urgent vocals. But, in the face of such a great album, a minor quibble.


 


Words: Chris Dawson