Portishead Third Review

During the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead England in December 2007, Portishead played their first full live set in 10 years, featuring five new songs – “Hunter”, “Machine Gun”, “Wicca” (retitled as “Silence”) “Mystic” (retitled as “The Rip”) and “Peaches” (retitled as “We Carry On”) which appear on Third.The album was leaked onto torrent sites in its entirety and in high quality (320kbps). I’ve listening to the album during most of the day while a winter storm furiously beats down snowfall and searing winds. It’s haunting, incredible, modern, dark and moody. Beth Gibbons’ haunting voice still evokes incredible emotions.

I’ve got no idea why Third was leaked onto the internet. Millions of fans are waiting for this album. It will be a success. It will go quadruple platinum. Portishead will go on another whirlwind tour of the world, playing to sold out venues and stadiums all over the place. Gibbons, Barrow and Utley came out with a masterpiece. I didn’t know what to expect when I got this album. I’ve started listening to Tricky and the old trip-hop crew once more.

This takes me back to March 1998 when I saw Portishead live in Montreal, Canada. I couldn’t get tickets and paid 50$ for scalped tickets. It was well worth the money and I enjoyed an incredible show. I remember that they were playing two nights in a row. I almost went to the second show, but in the end decided against it. That year, I saw Tricky, Björk, Blur, Prodigy and a whole bunch of others.

For a band that defined the trip-hop genre when it started in Bristol, this album is hard to categorize. One thing that I’ve learned with my eclectic music tastes is to stop trying to do this. Anyone who enjoyed Portishead in the past will enjoy this album.

This album incorporates a lot of samples and synthesizers which might put off some fans. Drum tracks meld seamlessly with violins and pianos.

The new Portishead album will be released on the 29th of April 2008, almost eleven years since their last album Portishead. The album was written and composed from 2005 to 2007.

Right of the bat, The Rip and Magic Doors strike me as really great songs. The Rip starts out as an acoustic sounding ballad, but is transformed into live-drummed piece in which Gibbons’ characteristic “oooooh” extends for up to 30 seconds at a time over melodic and oscillating Moog patterns.

Third begins with rolling drum pattern that sounds muddled. Sequences are assembled and pushed along. Violins and a surfer guitar are added. A strange off tuned guitar laments while Gibbons’ voice only appears as the track nearly fades, almost halfway through. Gibbons’ voice is modified and instantly brings back memories of their past. Silence ends with a melody played by the off tune guitar, that finally manages to be in slightly in tune. A quartet or an orchestra of strings join in for good measure. Simply delectable. The song ends so abruptly, that you might wonder if this was intended.

Hunter starts off with a slower and moody pace. The refrain appears to be almost off key, but it fits in well with the rest of the song. This song is an evolution of the Portishead‘s Dummy sound.

The Rip begins with the soft acoustic melody played on guitar starts and Gibbons’ moody and distinctive voice. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece of music that I could easily listen repeatedly for a few days and not get bored. Before you know it, the song is over and you have to press repeat. There are songs like this. They are like a star or a black hole, and you get caught in the gravity well and it’s hard to get away from it. Why would you? The sweetness of destruction or implosion seem to fit the sounds and emotions that well up in me when I hear these songs.

The long “oooh” comes from the end of the question, “Will I folloooooowww?” that is just extended for about 30 seconds. At the same time, a steady synthesizer rhythm takes over of the song, with live drums in the background. Merging rhythms almost implode together with Gibbons’ incredibly beautiful voice.

“I wonder why I don’t know what you see…” says Gibbons that is how Plastic begins. The drum sequence is reminiscent of something out of the Dummy sessions. However Gibbons is interrupted by abrupt and brutal samples. A distinctive slow helicopter like sound is heard rolling around in the background. Synth chaos takes over the end of the track.

We Carry On starts with an alarm like sound. A steady droning is heard as well. The repeating patterns enforce an intense pace. A strange off-tune guitar makes a mid song appearance. Deep Water begins with a banjo. Gibbons sings an almost funny track with robotic voices as backup vocals.

Machine gun features sounds that remind of gunfire. They are in stark contrast with Gibbons’ high voice. The droning sharp sounds reach a crescendo midway through the song. The droning sounds take over the song until the end. A high melodic synth appears at the conclusion. It reminds me of Wendy Carlos and A Clockwork Orange.

Small begins slowly. Gibbons sings with sampled vocal accompaniments (of herself?) which disappear a third of the way through. A clear sounding synth starts a new faster rhythm. As fast as these sounds appear, they disappear once more when all but a third of the song is left. Haunting Gibbons reappears. A moody guitar marks the return of the 70ish organ and signals the end of the song.

An off beat drum beat marks the beginning of Magic Doors. Strings and Gibbons’ clear voice singing in tune are desperately emotional. “I’m losing myself / my desire I can’t hide / No reason in life for…” Magic Doors lead into Threads., the last track of Third. The album ends strong.

If there is one thing that Portishead does excessively well, is that they know exactly when to use an orchestra. Ever since PNYC, it is an great talent to possess to be able to use these incredible instruments along with samples and synths. By far, this will be loved and played by fans, more than any other Portishead record.

Haunting, emotional, moody, raw and modern, Third is an incredible record that will be loved by millions.

The album isn’t as aggressive as was hinted by the band in the end of 2007, but it is certainly aggressive for Portishead. Some of the synth sounds resemble helicopters or machine gun sounds at times. The album ends with the blaring sampled warning sounds of a lighthouse. Just like in the past with other albums of Portishead, this will be a disc that you will listen to over and over again, putting the volume up higher and higher until you can perceive all of the sounds and melodies hidden in their beautiful tracks.

10/10

Tracklist

  1. “Silence” – 4:59
  2. “Hunter” – 3:57
  3. “Nylon Smile” – 3:16
  4. “The Rip” – 4:30
  5. “Plastic” – 3:27
  6. “We Carry On” – 6:27
  7. “Deep Water” – 1:30
  8. “Machine Gun” – 4:43
  9. “Small” – 6:45
  10. “Magic Doors” – 3:32
  11. “Threads” – 5:47

47 Responses to “Portishead Third Review”


  1. 1 Ben March 9, 2008 at 20:53

    Hello Range, thank you for your review.

    It’s not only an interesting read but also interesting how others perceive and review something you also like.

    Are you looking forward to Massive Attack’s new album, too?

  2. 2 range March 10, 2008 at 01:55

    Hey Ben,
    Yep I’m looking forward to that too.

    However, a new Portishead album is quite an event! It’s been 11 years.

    Massive Attack have never stopped producing music, which I am naturally glad for.

  3. 3 crds March 18, 2008 at 10:25

    I couldn’t agree more, great review and brilliant album.

  4. 5 Simone March 27, 2008 at 00:45

    To me this is an awful release. I was so looking forward to this album. I’m very very disappointed. I give it 4/10. Only tracks number 5-10 and 11 are worth listening to.

  5. 6 Aitch March 27, 2008 at 15:06

    @Simone, give Third a few more listens and you may come around. It’s pretty jarring at times, but it’s growing on me faster than I thought it would.

    But if one was expecting another soundtrack for a boutique or cocktail lounge, this album ain’t it–Portishead has outgrown those venues.

    Which brings me to the question: How well will Third actually do? I think 4x platinum is highly optimistic. It may be a beautiful album but it’s not very pleasant, which will put off many fans of Portishead’s previous albums (cf Simone). And I wonder what the label heads thought when the master was delivered… “If we’re gonna make any money on this, we better get some star remixers on this, STAT!”

    Tonight was my fourth or fifth full listen to the album (I’ve been busy!) and like I mentioned, it’s quickly growing on me. I figured it would at first listen; now it remains to be seen if it’ll reach the upper echelons. I suspect it will.

  6. 7 AndaD April 1, 2008 at 10:24

    First – sublime.
    Second – subsistent.
    Third – substandard.

  7. 8 gamecat April 2, 2008 at 21:42

    It took me a while to get used to the second album, this one is similar. And similarly good. I’m not sure I’d say Portishead defined the Bristol trip hop genre, as Blue Lines precedes Dummy. But who cares? After a decade, I’m just thrilled to get another Portishead album.

  8. 9 Hansie April 3, 2008 at 04:09

    Wow, this is a great album.
    Great review also. I am listening to it the first time now. The Machine Gun in making its noice in my livingroom and i am stunned.
    I am surely going to buy this one!

  9. 10 Michael April 3, 2008 at 14:53

    It’s beyond my expectations. Just brilliant.
    And i don’t say that often.

    This is a deep, personal record. It’s not commercial like the first two albums.

    The references are there: lots of Neu!, Kraftwerk, et al…

    PLASTIC is an early favorite, sounds like Beth and the backing track miss each other and then reconnect at times.

    With Third and the new Notwist record, 2008 will kick Radiohead’s ass. As it should. Sorry.

  10. 11 Slippery Jim April 5, 2008 at 09:52

    I love your review Range it’s very well written.

    I have downloaded the album a week or two ago, and am a HUGE fan of Portishead, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. A lot of the vocals and songs are similar sounding to Beth Gibbons Rustin Man album a few years back.

    I personally agree with the rather blunt summary of AndaD. It is not the kind of album on which every track is great and worthy of countless relistens, and I don’t think it will be a huge success for the band. Quite frankly, some of the effects used sound like they are coming out of a faulty disc player rather than adding anything compelling to the track. And Beth does not really reach the heights of her vocal abilities on any songs.

    That said, perhaps this is the kind of album that requires many many listens before something clicks and it becomes your favourite album ;)

  11. 12 range April 5, 2008 at 10:18

    I agree with you there. I don’t think that this album will be a commercial success, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I think that it’s a great album that does require a lot of listens before you really understand parts of it. It took me a few days of constant playback before I could set my mind around this.

    That being said, there are some excellent tracks on it which could still have some commercial success. In the end, I don’t think that it really matters to Portishead if that happens. They have a loyal fanbase that has been waiting for this album for years.

    Personally, I’ll get a vinyl pressing of this album when it’s released.

  12. 13 range April 5, 2008 at 10:19

    Why vinyl?
    Because I DJ. Vinyl is more tactile when you mix.

  13. 14 range April 5, 2008 at 10:21

    And thanks for the positive comments on my review. I’ll post more reviews in the coming weeks. I’m just out of time right now, because it’s the end of semester right now.

  14. 15 www.bandra-mumbai.com April 6, 2008 at 22:22

    I agree, truly a dissapointing album. There are four good tracks on this album. Hard to believe it took a decade to create the whole of twelve tracks which does not veer very far from the sound of their second release. I feel Geoff id missing on the album for his nuances have dissapeared and perhaps someone should give beth some lemon/honey so she can stop screeching at times.
    One thing I will ad is this album is more commercial in terms of the remixes that have and will continue to come from it. Perhaps the interpretations will be better than the originals.
    Maybe a Disc Jockey will make this album great.

    Perhaps Portishead need to look at “Crystal Castles” and their debut for some innovation.

  15. 16 Tony Heywood April 7, 2008 at 23:43

    I really don’t like the record. Have listened again and again at its seems to get worse and not better. Have written a full review on my blog:

    Portishead Third Review

  16. 17 risingson April 7, 2008 at 23:57

    I saw them live yesterday in Cologne. Good show in general, but the audience warmed up much better to the “classic” tracks than to the new stuff. I’m not sure if “Third” will see skyrocketing releases. Triphop is certainly dead, and the new style Portishead digs into (psych dub?) doesn’t seem to be *that* chartbreaking…
    Guess I’ll finally stick to Massive Attack for a while.

  17. 18 Slippery Jim April 8, 2008 at 15:17

    I love the crackle of needle on vinyl Portishead have on many of their songs.

  18. 19 kristi April 10, 2008 at 21:47

    i just listened to the album. i was extremely let down. the beats are hardly complex. boring. this is not portishead. this is run of the mill.

  19. 20 Jan Ibrahim April 11, 2008 at 05:22

    haven’t listened to three yet but tbh i could never take to portishead anyway. but for whoever said trip hop is dead, quite possibly the best trip hop album ever was released relatively recently – Ganglion by Saltillo.

    a MUST LISTEN for fans of trip hop.

  20. 21 Billy Jack April 14, 2008 at 00:22

    I understand completely why so many people are dissing this record. It’s sure to polarize Portishead fans. Those who listened to them for he beautiful melodies they created on their first two albums will be utterly disappointed.

    Personally, I’ve been a massive Portishead junkie not for their beauty but for their ability to tap into a certain psyche. Roads is one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written yet I sill don’t know exactly what’s been sung. The combination of haunting vocals and music touch me no matter how many times I hear it.

    This is the same with Third. It’s not a simple record, nor, intially, an easy listen. And at first I was disappointed. I’ve been waiting anxiously for this album for years, and on first listen I wondered why I was looking forward to it. ut after several play throughs I’m convinced that this is a masterpiece!!!

    Like Portishead at their best, interpretation is the key. The abstract nature of the songs allows multiple interpretations and I’m sure that everyone who gives it a go will take something completely different from each track.

    Personally, I like to listen to it from start to end to be taken on the journey that it presents. The homages to Pink Floyd (Welcome to the Machine) and Philip Glass evoke stunning memories. With their second album Barrow made a point of using only original samples after being criticised for his alleged over use on Dummy. I think this album find a beautiful balance between acknowledging what has gone before and how it has influenced the music of today.

    All in all an album of genius. Not at first listen though.

  21. 22 The Brr April 17, 2008 at 05:21

    A great review

    concise and interesting.

    I have a problem with this album, I cant get past The Rip, it is absolutely GORGEOUS!!!

    They have remained Portishead but have reinvented themselves in a magic way…

    I battle a little with Machine Gun, its early days, but still. It seems an incredibly poor decision to have this as the first single.

    We carry on would have been a far better choice, infinitely more listenable but still pushing the envelope

    bravo

    An unexpected triumph

    The Brr

  22. 23 range April 17, 2008 at 11:14

    Yeah, The Rip is incredible. Magic Doors in another favorite of mine, but I remember playing The Rip non-stop for a day at least.

  23. 24 G_Dirty_5 April 20, 2008 at 20:21

    Wow, all I have to say is that I am a bit dissapointed with ‘Third’. I was looking forward to listening to another Portishead album from beginning to end. However, on this album I have found that tracks 4,5,10,and 11 are the only tracks worth listening. Beth’s voice is as great as always but the beats and synth patterns conflict way too much with her voice. I wish they go back tone the synths and special effects down, redo some tracks and let Beth’s voice do the rest. For now I’ll loop those 5 decent tracks and play Dummy and Portishead.

  24. 25 Ian Bolton April 23, 2008 at 01:55

    Just read through a few reviews, seen them live, had the album off the web for almost a month and would agree with a few people on here it is pretty substandard.
    The fact you gave it 10/10 for a review is a little over the top don’t you think? If we were to compare it to a lot of stuff which has been released by other bands in those eleven years this is very average. They’re not doing anything new, probably by Portishead’s standards, but not by the independent music scenes.
    Beths voice is as beautiful, harrowing and claustrophobic as ever with some great sounds going on in there. The Portishead sound seems more produced now with aggressive synths and more live drums, or is that a drum machine sound? It seems heavily condensed.
    The album starts off slowly and a bit self absorbed. Nylon Smile was the start for me with nice melodies and that typical feel from Beth wallowing “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you, I don’t know what I’d do without you”. The Rip is okay, what was the point of Deep Water? Machine Gun was just boring after a minute and the last two tracks for me were the saving grace really. Magic Doors is a great track, Threads reminds me of their live in New York set with more distortion.

    Overall I feel like the album is like a hot cup of water spilt across a table. It’s spread out trying to cover as much space as possible, but for something that was once like a secret, a beautiful feeling of good depression, it now seems self indulgent and tiresome. Lets hope their fourth is more sorted out.

  25. 26 Christos Toronto April 24, 2008 at 07:38

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to expect that fewer (if any) releases would give me the same sense of awe and wonder that first encounters did in the past. At the same time, experience has taught me to be appreciate the work of real artists.

    So, Third: not like the first time (I can tell you where I was and what I felt ["holy crap!"] the first time I hear Dummy); but I’m grateful for its release. Like the above posters, I downloaded the leak, but I’ll also buy it. And will also look for it on vinyl too!

    Thanks for the review! C_T

  26. 27 Haris Pit April 26, 2008 at 19:43

    great review Range.!

    This album is PERFECT!
    Bravo Portishead!
    evolution…..memories……quality!

  27. 28 Michael Samoylov April 29, 2008 at 18:19

    I wish they visited Russia or Finland one day… I love Portishead since ’96

  28. 29 t5 May 1, 2008 at 05:01

    hmmm … the thing that made portishead completely flippin fantastic was the spot on beats and production imho, this record doesn’t have it … even in a remote sense. for me, the first two records, every track took my breathe away when the beat would kick in. so far, i haven’t found a single track that does anything for me in that sense. oh well, they could have skipped this one, and just let the two stand the test of time.

  29. 30 Kostas May 2, 2008 at 06:45

    Very nice review!Thank you…
    As for my opinion, I believe that is just an absolutely amazing album. While it remains as atmospheric and dark as the previous ones, it’s in the same time much more strong and experimental in hearing! I think it’s the perfect comeback of a perfect band!!

  30. 31 Joseph May 5, 2008 at 06:29

    I am so glad to see some positive feed back on this album. I Love it in it’s entirety. Portishead has given me so much more than what I expected from this album. The beats are heavy and dramatic. I love “We Carry On,” and “Machine Gun” is my favorite. Each member of this band plays such an important part musicly. Third is hands down one the best. Whether people disagree or not Portishead defines Trip Hop. I am glad that they took there time with this album too. It makes it so much more highly anticipated. I’d love to see them on tour. I haven’t had the pleasure to do so yet.

  31. 32 anotherchris May 6, 2008 at 00:06

    I love Third. Reaction on first hearing it a month ago or more was a bit like hearing Portishead (2nd album) – not sure of what I was listening to, not sure if I liked it, but it was damned interesting and, incredibly, already growing on me in that first listen.

    I can understand some disappointment in that it is very different, but that’s what I enjoy – there’s a real evolution in the sound. And this is what the band is about from what I understand.

    Anyway I’ve since bought the CD and I go to see them (for the first time, finally!) in concert tonight (‘au Zentih, Paris’).

    BTW any UK readers, try to get a read of the review in the music mag “The Wire”. There’s a damning review if ever there was one!

    Lastly Machine Gun is incredible. I can understand it putting off a lot of people, but I think it’s superb.

    Very lastly, first time I heard any new tracks weas when someone posted online the concert Portishead did at ATP end of last year.

  32. 33 GIRLFRIEND May 11, 2008 at 17:19

    Not sure about this new cd. I need to play it at least 50 more times before to be really sure. if you ask me now, first two disc were a lot betters. but again, i need to play this cd more times. after all, we will have, al least, anothers 11 years until the next album…

  33. 34 mad scientist May 13, 2008 at 23:31

    My impressions after the first listening:

    – I find it difficult to make it through an entire song before the unharmonies and flatline industrial sounds begin to annoy me.

    – There are too many abrupt musical transitions and Gibbons inability to carry a tune doesn’t help either.

    – The lyrics don’t split my soul open.

    After listening to the eerie beautifulness of Dummy and Portishead for so long, I don’t think the harsh blandness of Third is capable of sinking in too deep with me. It’s a shame.

  34. 35 LittleLicker May 27, 2008 at 15:09

    So it’s official. Prog is back. With a vengeance. The musical landscape has been so bare, so predictable lately that all can say is “we had it coming.”

    Every new cycle of the ‘movement’ (and this is the third time it’s gone around in the last 40 years) has its power ballads, its torch songs, its anthems. Venture to say that Portishead ‘The Rip’ will have a place in that pantheon. Furthermore, that it will be placed kicking and screaming next to Renaissance ‘Ashes are Burning’ and This Mortal Coil ‘Song to the Siren’, like it or not (and yes, TMC was really an ‘undercover’ prog project!)

    So, you ask, did Portishead created a prog album? Weren’t they headed in the Radiohead post-post-rock direction, trip-hop roots not withstanding? Well, won’t go as far as calling the entire album an exercise in unusual time sigs, but it sure has a lot of it to be purely accidental. They are referencing something in the genre, and want to know what that is. Could it be just Talk Talk (wink wink)?

    So is Beth Gibbons really just channeling Annie Haslam? or Elizabeth Fraser? No, don’t think so. But she’s definitely keeping the prog chanteuse torch alit.

  35. 36 dholl musik June 1, 2008 at 08:50

    Man, this is really special. Tracks 1 through to 8 especially.

    I think Third is one of those eternal love it/hate it albums, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it, it’s probably more than 50…not just Portishead’s finest work but some of the most goosepimpling music I’ve ever heard.

    One quirky observation is that, to my tastes, the verses are much more appealing than the choruses…this applies to every song.

    Terms that describe Third: hypnotic, twisted, repetitive, raw, emotional, organic, lo-fi, mysterious.

    Comparable sound: White Rabbit-era Jefferson Airplane, Neu!, later Radiohead, some of the Dummy album

    Best bit: Plastic from 2:00 – 2:30…absolutely juicy passage, deliciously dark.

    Best song: The Rip…what a song.

    Best dance: Machine Gun…do the Robot Shuffle!

    Worst song: Magic Doors…it just seems out of place…and boring.

  36. 37 juliecope89 June 9, 2008 at 08:12

    “Machine gun features sounds that remind of gunfire”

    There may be something subliminal going on there. Similarly “Deep Water” features sounds that remind of being under quite a lot of water.

  37. 38 rukus July 11, 2008 at 09:09

    Third has really grown on me. I love it.

    Hunter, Deep Waters, Machine Gun, and Threads are my favourite tracks.

    I never really got into their second album, this one is definitely better in my opinion.

  38. 39 Libelle October 16, 2008 at 12:37

    Is this their Kid A?

  39. 40 Alsalive March 16, 2009 at 01:15

    Portishead is an amazing band, Innovative use of jazz samples, big drums, simple bass and decks n effects. Great piece of music.


  1. 1 Shining City » Portishead - Third (2008) Trackback on March 10, 2008 at 01:34
  2. 2 Portishead And NIN « memoirs on a rainy day Trackback on March 10, 2008 at 02:52
  3. 3 The Rip By Portishead - Third « memoirs on a rainy day Trackback on March 11, 2008 at 08:51
  4. 4 In the jukebox: Portishead “Machine Gun” (B is for Blog) Trackback on March 26, 2008 at 01:38
  5. 5 Christian And Other Music « memoirs on a rainy day Trackback on March 31, 2008 at 02:32
  6. 6 Currently Listening To « memoirs on a rainy day Trackback on April 2, 2008 at 08:02
  7. 7 Portishead: Third « Neoconservative? Moi? Trackback on August 5, 2008 at 20:56

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