Review Summary: Not an easy album to grasp on the first listen, and an even easier one to misinterpret.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
There is such great music out in the world, yet so little time to discover it. And surprisingly, the best music isn't often made by the famous names that are found on the front covers of pop-culture magazines, or at sold-out gigs. No, sometimes we have to dig deep through the shelves of the local record store, or through the vast webpages of the internet to find those ignored gems. Portishead isn't a name that is often mentioned in the media, and one you'll never hear on the radio, but with only 3 albums they have developed a legacy that can be measured by the influence they've had on a multitude of artists, and the legion of admirers who praise the level of artistry in their music.
The content of Portishead's debut album, Dummy
, was pretty straightforward. The music had a dark mood, but the songs were traditionally composed and easy to grasp on the first listen. Portishead's second effort, eponymously named, differed from it's predecessor as it focused on exploring the realms of Psychedelic ambience. Now, 11 years-later, Portishead return with Third
. One can't help but wonder how the members have evolved in this extensive hiatus, where they are musically, and how this album would sound. Surprisingly, this is a very bizarre release, one that is difficult to grasp on the first listen and an even easier one to misinterpret. It's an album that takes us through many different paths, but none of them are instantly familiar.
Experimentation is a very dangerous attempt for artists in the music business. As an artists it's tough to know what your fans are going to like and what they won't. When artists push themselves and their music just to see how far they can go, they're bound to lose some fans in the journey. The album opener, "Silence"
, takes us through a long, yet restrained, instrumental passage consisting of a simple percussion beat and guitar effects. This might sound like familiar territory for Portishead, referring back to their second album, but the sound leaves the listener perplexed, this isn't the same Portishead from the 90's. Beth Gibbons doesn't appear on the track until it's midpoint, but the melancholic tone in her voice is nostalgic to hear again. The opening tracks from Third's predecessors, were usually powerful tracks that grasped our interest right at the first note. Let us refer to "Cowboys"
from Portishead, right away that hypnotizing drumbeat had our heads rocking to the beat, and as soon as Beth Gibbon's vocal delivery kicked in- That was it, we were hooked. But "Silence"
, in all of it's avant-garde nature, it's tough to get into. And just when we're trying to figure out what is going on, it disappears.
The album transcends into the second track, "Hunter"
, and this one nods to the melancholic ballads that are often found in Portishead's albums, but it features some strange effects that come and go. The effects aren't the psychedelic touches that we've heard before, it's more like electronic dissonance that interrupt Beth Gibbons after her vocal deliveries. As usual, Beth Gibbon's performance is soulful and deep, but even still the song follows in the same avant-garde vein of it's pervious track. "The Rip"
is a return to normal orchestration. It's a soft acoustic driven ballad, and features touches of psychedelia. The Drumbeat sound of "Magic Doors"
is another return to their older nature, both of these tracks will be sure to help fans breath easier in knowing that Portishead haven't deviated too far from their past tendencies. From there we move into "Plastic"
, which is an amalgamation of their older tendencies and their new experimental style. This song is all over the place, from a soft psychedelic delivery it transcends into a strange electronic realm, probably to reflect the feeling of frustration in the lyrics. But from here on, the experience just gets stranger. The electro-beat that drives "Machine Gun"
is a very interesting one, very mental and mind-warping. The final part of the album, songs like "Small"
, contain some organ and string arrangements that derive influence from The Doors. The latter parts of "Small"
are very reminiscent of a much more bizarre, Acid-Rock frenzy that The Doors often produced.
I can't even begin to imagine what fans will say about this album. It's definitely Portishead at their strangest. I had a hard time myself trying to get my head around it. It seems to be an album where the band just experimented with whatever ideas came out. Some tracks are pretty instant, other's will take a while to get your head around. It's definitely a grower, and one that may frustrate in the beginning but will eventually warm into the listener after giving it the attention it requires.