Abandon any idea you had that Portishead makes music to quiet your brain. Maybe Dummy was kick-back-and-put-your-slippers-up mellow, but Third is a noisy, sometimes disturbing album that will have you sitting up straight.
The first track opens with a cacophonous din – until that long, nasal Portishead whine breaks in. The noise doesn’t go away, but it’s transformed into something sweeter, if no less challenging. Like that first track, the album never gets any easier, and if you loved Portishead for their trip-hop sound (a label that reportedly makes the band wince and shake their heads), you might be disappointed. But artists have to keep testing limits, especially their own, and everyone from Beethoven to The Beatles to Bjork have worked hard to keep the music new.
Most of us heard “Machine Gun,” the eighth track, on an initial release before we heard the rest of the album. With its staccato barrage backing Beth Gibbons’ hair-raising voice, it’s a fitting prelude to what’s coming: right away, you know it’s going to be distressing, it’s going to be heartbreaking, and it’s going to be big.
As disturbing as the music often is on Third, that disturbance never feels bad. When Beth Gibbons is your nightingale, your songs are overlaid with a tissue-paper layer of emotion that nothing can tear, and the dichotomy between that wrapping and the surly, difficult beats is and always has been what makes the Portishead sound so clutch-your-chest good.
This is an album that creeps into your bones and rattles them with one manicured, determined hand. And it’s good to get rattled. Don’t miss this.
Favorite Track: “Small”