Claims that Portishead have "gone all dark" for their first album in eleven years miss the point that they weren't exactly flowers and bunnies to begin with. "Dummy"'s scratchy vinyl-sampling "trip-hop", strikingly innovative in 1994, may have inspired a legion of loungier imitators, but its sound world was one of smoky dives and dirty cities. Now in 2008 they inhabit a world of dystopian psychedelic rock, with Beth Gibbons' heartstring-tugging vocals still their constant hallmark. Throughout "Third", dirty guitar textures and electronics are offset jarringly but effectively with Gibbons' piercing melodies and fragmented lyrics. It's not conventionally beautiful, but plenty of thrilling moments and imaginative contrasts show they are as fresh as ever. On "Hunter", their familiar rain-smeared nostalgia is punctuated by heavy guitar grinds and swirling bleeps. "The Rip"'s gentler acoustic tune morphs into processional synth-pop, but the attention is truly grabbed by the angst-soaked declamatory chorus of "Plastic". At the album's heart are its two most powerful songs, the detuned synths and post-punk guitar mesh of "We Carry On" and the startling automatic-weapon juddering of "Machine". These are thrown into greater relief by the fragile ukulele-accompanied ballad "Deep Water" that separates them. "Small" is entwined by acid-fuelled psychedelic tentacles, and the lyrical tune of "Magic Doors" is interrupted by a muffled free-jazz wig-out. Finally the powerfully heavy "Threads" finishes with a series of foghorn-like blasts, a daringly confident full stop to a challenging and successful return.
May 28, 2008
See blog entry: New design and new albums from 2008 (28 May, 2008)