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iTunes Review

Eleven years following their self-titled second album, Portishead’s Third is an inventive, challenging song cycle that never settles for easy listening. The time off was no vacation. Principal producer and writer Geoff Barrow was decidedly unhappy over the group’s comfort zone, disturbed that the ensemble’s experimental ways were so easily co-opted by others and fitted as a lifestyle soundtrack for a sophisticated, affluent class. With Third, the challenge was on to reinvent the group’s spooky trip-hop, film-noir magic as something far more extreme. “Magic Doors” and “Plastic” both clock in at the conventional three-and-a-half minute mark, yet in their compact structures the tunes cut-up and break down in unexpected jolts with beats slowed to crawls and Beth Gibbons’ eerie vocals tortured into free-fall. The minute and a half of “Deep Water” is a shockingly tame ukulele ballad with a barbershop quartet mocking Gibbons’ depressive observations, but elsewhere the emphasis is pure tension. The disruptive grooves of “Silence” set the ominous path. Songs shut down abruptly, or clang on with battered electronics (“Machine Gun”). Intense.

Customer Reviews

Tough listen... at first

The first time I listened to this album, I thought it was awful. I thought that it was nothing like what Portishead should be, and I was very disappointed. After 11 years, it's inevitable that a new Portishead album wouldn't live up to my expectations, and at first glance this one didn't. From the outset though, it was immediately clear that there was something to this new album, that made me revile it, fear it. After several listens, I began to understand that what I was so disturbed by was what has made previous Portishead albums so incredible. This album is profoundly awe-inspiring, towering, and monstrous. That is what I think the goal of Portishead has been all along -- to create music that creates a mood beyond simple melancholy or angst, to create music that speaks to the deep darkness that we find within ourselves. Unlike previous P albums, this one is much more about the mood; the melodies are strangled by cacaphony, Beth Gibbon's plaintive voice is used as another instrument rather than as an end in itself, guitars are used as percussion. The syncopated beats & notes of 'Silence,' the percussive blasts of 'Machine Gun', the weakened voice of 'Deep Water...' all of these add to the profoundness of the album as a whole, setting music on it's ear. After listening to this album, after hearing it over and over, I discovered that what I thought was the essense of Portishead: melodies you can hum along with, spy-music guitars, a sense of mystery are all shown to be fakes covering for the man behind the curtain. I'll admit this is a hard album to listen to, but the nuances, spareness, and largess of the concept make it an excellent album after the final review. I had to ease into it, at first playing 'Machine Gun' and letting the album run out before starting it over, as well as cherry picking songs at random. Now that I've heard it a few times, I can't stop playing it... and now I'm just longing for more.

As DJ Shadow put it, time to decide if you're a fan of an album or an artist

While I didn't enjoy his last album, I did respect his vision and desire to move his sound in a new direction. Most of all, I liked his attitude on the negative backlash his so-called fans had for his new approach to music. It makes sense. Are you a fan of the artist, or of a few select recordings of theirs? Will you give them your ears long enough to actually *hear* the music? Apply that logic to Portishead for a moment, and you might be surprised at how much you enjoy this record. It isn't going to sound like "Dummy" because this isn't 1995. That's a GOOD thing, people. This artist is progressing, branching out, exploring...all the things that produce great art - and they have done just that. I didn't mean to turn this review into a lecture, but honestly you should do yourself a favor and let this album sink in. Don't compare it to their other work. Take it on its own terms, and you'll be shocked at how masterful it is.

Brilliant Curve Ball

One word. Wow! If you're looking for the Portishead of 11 plus years ago, then you're in for one helluva curve ball. I love this record. It grinds your senses into a fine powder and blows the particles off the coffee table. It's challenging in the best way. It's everything you hoped for while at the same time being nothing you expected. Prepare to have your perception tampered with and your sense of reality dampened with the sounds of machines marching down your quiet neighborhood streets to pull you out of your houses while you sleep. Brilliant!


Formed: 1991 in Bristol, England

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Portishead may not have invented trip-hop, but they were among the first to popularize it, particularly in America. Taking their cue from the slow, elastic beats that dominated Massive Attack's Blue Lines and adding elements of cool jazz, acid house, and soundtrack music, Portishead created an atmospheric, alluringly dark sound. The group wasn't as avant-garde as Tricky, nor as tied to dance traditions as Massive Attack; instead, it wrote evocative pseudo-cabaret pop songs that subverted their conventional...
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Third, Portishead
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