Feature

Portishead

After 11 years, Portishead has returned with an album you didn

Portishead
Third
(Mercury)

***

After 11 years, Portishead has returned with an album you didn’t even know you were waiting for, said Joshua Alston in Newsweek. Back in the 1990s, amid the grunge rock of Nirvana and saccharine pop of the Spice Girls, the U.K. band established itself with a “trip-hop” style invoking “hip-hop, ’60s film scores, and jazz torch songs in equal measure.” Those days—along with trip-hop’s fans—have all but gone. Yet Portishead’s unimaginatively titled third album, Third, is a welcome return. It’s more of a “re-debut” than a comeback, said Nate Patrin in Pitchforkmedia.com. Third is almost “unrecognizable as a Portishead album”: All traces of trip-hop have vanished, replaced by brooding and bleak experimental rock. This “staggering transformation” is accentuated by the decision to step up the rhythm, stifle the percussion, and shift from “relaxed tension into dissonant rumbles and shrieks.” The only “familiarizing factor” from previous albums is Beth Gibbons’ haunting voice and morose lyrics. “Wary, snarling,” and restless, the new sound often seems to embody the “morbidity” of Gibbon’s lyrics, said Chris Campion in the London Observer. “Silence” thunders with fear and anxiety. “The Rip” trembles with heartache and hopelessness. Never has entering “a pit of despair” sounded so enjoyable.

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