(Mercury 2008)Portishead - Third

It has been quite a long wait for fans of Portishead. Eleven years after their last studio full-length and a decade since their New York City live album, Portishead's aptly named "Third" is like an old friend returning from the dead. Except that there are a few things about your friend that are different than you might remember.

"Third" plays like a compilation of rarities or a project in experimentation. Portishead take careful, measured steps with the delicate "Hunter" and the unfinished sounding "Deep Water," where ukulele is strummed. By contrast, Beth Gibbons' airy vocals float over the rigid thumps that rage on "Machine Gun." By the time the band reaches tracks like the instrumentally heavy "Small" and the clanging and stomping "We Carry On," things are in full swing and the band is hitting their stride. Portishead abandon some of their earlier pretenses for the '70s style clinking rhythm of "Magic Doors" and the fuller dramatic sound of "Plastic" while still pleasing themselves with loose experimentation.

To call "Third" minimalist is an understatement. The album's quiet is often deafening. When music does rise, it is succinct, understated and carefully avoids the lush electronica melodies that Portishead were previously known for. Having been recorded over a number of years, "Third" does not feel so much disjointed as a collection of similar sounds that occasionally overlap while, at other times, standing apart from one another. On "Third," the band offers solemnity that sounds more like spinning the dial on the radio, tuning things in and abruptly cutting them off at their own discretion.


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