Album Illegal Leak of the Week: Portishead, Third
posted by March 7 at 11:38 AMon
A backbeat ripped from an old vinyl record with prerequisite popping sounds. A silky, understated bassline. Some strings. A chirping lead guitar that comes seemingly out of nowhere. Beth Gibbons wailing about…well, doesn’t matter, does it? Welcome back, trip-hop comfort food!
I’m posting this on my first listen-through of Third, so take the following opinions with a grain of salt—I know Portishead fans will be stoked just by the mere mention that the 11-years-in-wait record is floating around the world as we speak. Normally it’s jarring to hear a record like this, without any stop-gap albums or material to assess and bridge the gap between then and now, but this disc hasn’t had that effect on me; if anything, it’s almost as if this came out in 2001, as it’s is ridiculously allegiant to the ground that Dummy and Portishead mined. The album opens with the description I gave above, as “Silence” only strays from the days of old with a faster tempo, and fifth track “Plastic” feels ripped out of the 1997 album’s sessions—pensive drumbeat, lots of drumming pauses for Gibbons to audibly wonder things like “I can try… but don’t know what you feel,” her statements usually interrupted by abrupt samples (something that sounds like a helicopter blade, a percolating synth line, a crash of cymbals). And that’s where the major change in the disc comes—lots of synthesizers high in the mix this time around (like in the ending of “Machine Gun,” much more evident on record than on the ATP video from a few months back). I suppose it’s an improvement over the turntable wicky-wicky sounds of old.
There are a few mold-breaking surprises, such as “The Rip,” whose acoustic ballad intro morphs halfway through into a driving, live-drummed number in which Gibbons’ unmistakable “oooooh” stretches for up to 30 seconds at a time over competing, oscillating Moog patterns. That track is soon followed by the incredible “We Carry On,” whose intense pace, synth repetition and vocal wailing recall Silver Apples (if through a less grating Portishead filter, at least, complete with a killer lead guitar line to round the song out). Not sure how I feel about the minute-long, undead-barber-shop dirge “Deep Water,” though, but otherwise, this disc is at turns equally cold/harsh and sweet/inviting, which means it’s business as usual. And I can’t even begin to emote about how heaving and great the final three tracks are—already seem like songs worth memorizing. Time to put the album on repeat…guess it’s 1997 again in more ways than one.