Portishead’s Third is released tomorrow, and I can honestly say that I have yet to be this excited about any other release this year. And that’s just happened within the last few weeks, as more and more from the album has surfaced on various sites and blogs. And despite having heard the entire album several times, through various sources, and having watched numerous videos and live performances of the new material, the material on Third still feels as fresh as ever.
And I’m not the only one whose stoked. Every critic I’ve read so far has been beside themselves with praise.
Third is resolutely not an album to be sampled in 30-second bites or to be heard on shuffle; a quick scan through the tracks will not give a sense of what it’s all about. It demands attention, requiring effort on the part of the listener, as this defies any conventions on what constitutes art pop apart from one key tenant, one that is often attempted yet rarely achieved: it offers music that is genuinely, startlingly original.
So, on their third studio album, Portishead have succeeded in striking the careful balance between progressing their sound to where it should be 11 years later and retaining the esoteric creepiness that makes them tick. I don’t hear much in the way of clear, winning singles, not like the first two albums, but that seems to work in the album’s favor. Third is a complete work of art to fully immerse yourself in, listened to start to finish. It will be a little awkward initially, like Garth’s feeling towards putting on new underwear. After a while, it will become a part of you. History will eventually see it rank on par with the rest of their legendary works.
Of course, music like this often takes on an otherworldly, even impersonal feel, but that’s another of Portishead’s glorious contradictions, more vividly on display than ever on Third; there’s an undeniable humanity to their music, partially because of the presence of familiar sounds and styles, but also due to singer Beth Gibbons’ tortured vocals and confessional songwriting. The music becomes a soundtrack for Gibbons’ peculiar brand of 21st century blues, as she gives voice to all the frustrations, all the rich mystery and dark beauty, of existence. And so even when the music is bleak — which it almost always is — there’s a sense of empathy lurking just beneath the dark shroud of gloom.
Portishead have created a truly remarkable album with Third. Some people had to practically invent a new genre for Portishead in 1994, and the band has again defied classification with this collection of songs, three years in the making and eleven years in the ether. At turns it will have you humming sweet melodies and at others leave you in a complete state of unease. But, more than anything, it will be like one of those hitchhiking ghosts, tagging along, alongside you for eternity, and you’re loving every minute of it.
I’ll be getting my copy soon, and hope to post some more thoughts of my own once I’ve had time to absorb Third — and be absorbed by it — more thoroughly.
Read more about Portishead.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.