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