Saturday, June 4, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 4/16/08

From 1994-1997, the Bristol trio of Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons, and Adrian Utley known as Portishead changed the sound of electronic music with their smooth jazz interpretation known as trip-hop. While acts like Massive Attack and Tricky helped create the trip-hop sound, Portishead broadened it with symphonic arrangements and mixed it with elements of jazz, soul, and hip-hop. In 1998 after two acclaimed studio albums and a live album that would later be accompanied by a DVD.

Portishead then went on a near-decade hiatus where members dabbled on side projects as well as dealing with personal issues. During that time, the trip-hop sound that they helped create and defined had lost its sense of innovation. In 2006, the band officially returned to the studio where they released samples of what they were recording on their Myspace page. At the same time, they recorded a cover of a Serge Gainsbourg song for a tribute album to the late French pop legend. Finally in 2008, Portishead returns with their third full-length studio release simply entitled Third.

Written, produced, and performed by Portishead, Third is an album that marks as a huge departure from the group as they move away from the broad sound and experimentation of their self-titled second album as well as the smooth yet dark vibe of their first. Instead, Third is an album where the band goes into more aggressive territory yet retain the same presentation of previous albums. With delving into samples or any kind of polished production for something more lo-fi and rawer. While the vocals of Beth Gibbons may reach newer, eerie territory. Her voice is still as powerful and has seductive than ever. The result isn't just the band reminding audiences why they were so beloved but also an album that shows that they're moving forward.

The album opener Silence starts off with a man talking in French as a rumbling rhythm of drums, bass, and scratchy guitars arrive. With siren-wailing riffs occurring with a screeching string arrangement background as cackles of percussion start to appear in the background. The instruments begin to quiet down as Beth Gibbons start to sing with her eerie yet enchanting vocals through the song's dark, moody lyrics. With Adrian Utley's guitar leading the full-instrumentation to accompany Gibbons' vocals, the song intensifies a bit through Utley's guitar and Geoff Barrow's arrangements. Hunter is a slower yet moodier track led by a thumping bass beat before it slows down for this haunting ballad with Utley's jazz-like guitar accompaniment and Gibbons' sullen yet soothing vocals. Featuring Utley's growling guitar, the song's smooth yet dark mood is a reminder of the Portishead of old as Barrow channels a shimmering synthesizer solo that adds an intensity to the track.

Nylon Smile opens with hollow, stark rhythms and scratchy guitar plucks as Gibbons sings in a calm yet wandering tone as she sings the song's haunting quality through its rhythmic yet disturbing tone. With its reverb instrumentation by Barrow's arrangements and Utley's guitar, the song maintains its rhythm and fragile presentation. The Rip is ballad-like song with an arpeggio, acoustic-guitar led performance by Utley as Gibbons sings in her haunting yet angelic vocal delivery as she is accompanied by Barrow's soft, synthesizer work. The song's folk-like tone is a wonderful standout as it later ventures into full-on electronic with Barrow's bass-drone synthesizer melody. Plastic features a shimmering, scratchy helicopter-like background along with a slow-then-sputtering drum track to accompany Gibbons' harrowing vocals. Then Utley's crashing guitar and Barrow's broad, eerie electronic accompany help emphasize Gibbons' vocals during the song's eerie chorus. The song's unique structure and tone proves that the band is still willing to experiment with their sound.

One of the album's biggest standout cuts is We Carry On that has a fierce intensity with its shimmering, siren-like synthesizer and then a thumping bass beat to get the momentum going. With an organ melody popping up, the song starts as Gibbons start to sing the song's dark lyrics with her hollow vocals. Things start to intensify as the song gets more and more sinister while the rhythm maintains intact. With Utley's jangly guitar wash starting to appear along with the sputtering live drums. Then a growling guitar riff starts to appear as the song just continues to hit its mark while the synthesizers still shimmer as the song's fierce intensity still fires up throughout the rest of its time. The one-and-a-half minute Deep Water is a folk-laden song that is driven by a ukelele and Beth Gibbons' raspy yet angelic vocals through the song's descriptive lyrics as it's an ode to old-school folk music.

The first single Machine Gun opens with distorted, sputtering drum machine beats and clapping shimmers of synthesizers. With Gibbons' vocals leading the way, the song includes an eerie, theremin-like accompaniment as Gibbons sings the song's dark lyrics. The song is an odd choice for a single yet it presents the right introduction for the entire album as it later features scratchy, hammering beats by Geoff Barrows. Small is a near seven-minute track that opens with Utley's smooth, arpeggio guitar riff that accompanies Gibbons' haunting vocal. With a cello now accompanying Gibbons' double-tracked vocals in the chorus, the song becomes more eerie as it's followed by a scratchy guitar solo and striking organ track that's reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. The song's dark, eerie structure of cello-driven chorus and striking, psychedelic atmosphere is the band once again experimenting with great results.

Magic Doors opens with rhythmic, vibrant live drum tracks with hits the cowbell as it's later accompanied by a bass-like synthesizer in the background. With Gibbons now taking charge, she sings in a soft yet calm tone as a piano strikes during the song's moody lyrics. When a scratchy, rub-like sound emerges for the bridge, it adds a spontaneity to the track as its original, main track is still intact. The album closer Threads is a track reminiscent of old Portishead with a dark, jangly guitar riff by Utley and a hypnotic synthesizer background as Gibbons sings as its later accompanied by a growling arrangement by Barrow that includes pounding guitars and rhythms. Yet, it's Gibbons' vocals that really shines through the song's dark, hypnotic tone with its wonderful array of arrangements and structure.

While the album and its sheer, crisp production creates a consistent yet eerie album that gives the Portishead sound new dimensions and experimentation. While fans of the band's previous albums might be a bit put-off by the new sound Portishead has taken. They will be pleased to the fact that they have maintained their edge and dark sound while taking it to a new level. Overall, Third is remarkable for its knack of dark, moody songs as well as unconventional song structures proving that Portishead still has some juice left in them after not being around for more than 10 years.

Portishead Albums: Dummy - Portishead - PNYC

(C) thevoid99 2011

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