Apr 18 2008

Portishead’s Third

Published by at 10:50 am under Blog,Music,Music Review

PortisheadI was first introduced to Portishead by accident about 9 years ago, by a friend of mine at the time, Peter. It was via an unlikely artist, Tom Jones. Knowing that I was (am) a big Divine Comedy fan, Peter pointed me at Tom Jones’ album, Reload, which included a track with Neil Hannon, a cover of Portishead’s All Mine. The album also included a cover of Motherless Child with Portishead. I immediately ran out to buy Portishead’s two albums, Dummy and Portishead (it’s possible my memory is a little iffy on this – I think it more likely that I copied the albums from my friend, but let’s not dwell on that).

On the 25th of April, the band, consisting of Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrows and Adrian Utley, will release their third album, ingeniously titled Third. Ten years after the release of their self-titled second album, this is one of the most eagerly anticipated albums in recent years.

So, I sit here, excitedly listening to the new album and I am not disappointed. Often, a build up and an elevated air of anticipation can lead to a monumental let down (see Damien Rice’s 9), but Third is a wonderful piece of musical engineering.

From the word go, we are sucked back into a musical landscape which only this band can create. The first track, Silence, is an epic adventure that begins so slight and builds to a cheeky finish that had me checking my iPod batteries. This track gives us a mere tease of Gibbons’ vocals which are as stark as ever.

There are maybe only two tracks that feel as though they were written minutes after the release of their second album, but this is not wholy a bad thing – Machine Gun is an excellent tune but it seems to contrast with the rich freshness and modern edge of Third. (On third and fourth listening, this ‘negative’ point fizzles away – I cannot find fault with this album).

Hunter is a track that paints a picture. It feels like listening to two tracks at once. Perhaps we are, through the music, hearing the points of view of the hunted and the hunter. Superb! Equally, The Rip is a ripping track (sorry!). It’s shows some growth in Gibbons’ vocals, where we hear a more romantic, slight sound (don’t worry – the edge is still very evident). A slow starter, the synth sound hypnotises and pulls us along to a sleepy ending. Portishead’s version of a lullaby maybe?

Plastic and We Carry On show the band’s love of percussion. The helicopter blades of the drum beat in Plastic are just as important to the track as the seething vocals, while the rhythm of We Carry On makes me want to march (but I’m very tired, so I don’t think I will).Portishead Third

The biggest surprise on the album comes in the form of the ukelele led Deep Water. I wonder if this was a track they made to amuse themselves, but was too good to be left off the album? The harmonies are silly, the melody unoriginal, but somehow this sounds great. It’s a bit of light relief after the heavy We Carry On.

Machine Gun is old style Portishead. Explosive drum and bass beats, almost metalic, mixed with Gibbons’ piercing vocals. Did they head down to the local steelworks to record this one? Perhaps, but the result is brilliant.

Small is a truly beautiful track, just beautiful. It’s looking to be my favourite track on the album. The sensual sound of Gibbons’ voice carries this song through the first minute or so before being joined by a long, deep organ sound. The synthesised, almost 70’s sound, makes me wonder if this is what The Doors might sound like had Morrison stuck around a while longer. This track quickly becomes as anthemic as the second album’s All Mine.

Magic Doors is a hectic mix of vocals and drum beats in disarray. It’s a tough listen, more suited to a late night and a few beers. There’s a rawness to it that sounds like it may have been lifted from Dummy, their debut album. The closing track, Threads, too sounds like vintage Portishead, though it is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Sweeping synthesised sounds, almost whale-like, help this tune crescendo into a big foghorn finish, perfectly closing the album.

I’ve listened to it in full four times now and a few tracks more than that. As much as I enjoyed their debut, Dummy, and adored the follow up, Portishead, Third is likely to be my favourite Portishead album. Haunting, moody, intelligent and modern, this will be big and rightly so.


The Official Website of Portishead

Third’s MySpace Page

Beth Gibbons’ MySpace Page

Geoff Barrow’s MySpace Page

Portishead on Wikipedia

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Portishead’s Third”

  1. Andrewon 18 Apr 2008 at 11:05 am

    Sour Times is always the tune that comes into my head when I think of Portishead and I love it.

    Did you know tomorrow is World Record Store Day? http://www.recordstoreday.com
    I’m quite excited, think I’ll make a point of buying some music in the smallest record store I can find and then watch my recnetly purchased DVD of Empire Records in celebration.

  2. Darrenon 18 Apr 2008 at 11:18 am

    I read something about that. I thought it was last week some time. Cool! Well, I’ll be in Donegal tomorrow, so if they do have any record stores up there, I’m sure they’ll be small enough for me to do my bit for the cause.

    I just watched Empire Records a few weeks back. It’s as good now as when I first saw it.

    (Oh, is your home address still the same?)

  3. Andrewon 18 Apr 2008 at 11:41 am

    Yup, you sending out wedding invites Mr.Byrne? *smiles mischievously*

    good to know empire Records has stood the test of time, I was kinda worried it wouldn’t. Wasn’t Renee Zellwegger so much more attractive when her bones were covered with flesh rather than the lifeless, thin mucous membrane that appears to be on them now?

  4. Darrenon 18 Apr 2008 at 11:51 am

    Yeah, Ms Zellweger does very little for me these days.

    And NO, I’m not sending out any invites. You’re worse than the relations.

  5. markon 23 Dec 2008 at 5:09 pm

    I think Portishead are a decent band, but one of these bands that people take a little too much pride in declaring themselves fans of. I think they are very samey, to be honest.

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