Portishead - Third
Marcus Warner 11/04/2008
Despite being a massive favourite of Portishead's debut album 'Dummy' I was able to enjoy it without being aware of the contextual nemesis it became. Whilst I wasn't old enough for it to pick up on my radar at the time of release, I was young enough to listen to it without the mass groans from my contemporaries who accused it of being 'dinner party' music that was played in the background of 'This Life'. Is it me, or does nobody apart from middle class thirty-somethings in Islington actually hold and attend dinner parties? Partially relevant observations aside, I listened to Portishead and loved their music without the burden of the cynical backlash that followed.
One thing is for certain, their third album 'Third' would be a pretty weird accompanying soundtrack to some aubergine tartlets and musky, overpriced wine (my guess at what is consumed at dinner parties) because it's so very bleak. Indeed the only couple I could see listening to it while eating would be Mr and Mrs Macbeth- and even they may baulk at its downbeat delivery.
There are some great moments within this album, like 'Nylon Smile' which is all mysterious bleeps, percussion and the brilliant 'I don't know what I done to deserve you' vocal refrain from vocalist Beth. But the problem is where there many great ideas within 'Third', there is precious little else; it all seems a bit unfinished and dare I say it, a bit dull. For a start you really notice that there is only three members in the group on this album, as there is often just three things going on- beats, guitar and vocals. There is not enough percussive backbone to most of the songs, sparse soundscapes that are a lesser version of Radiohead's post-Kid A homage to Warp records' electronica pretty much what sums most of the work here. Good ideas, be they melody, beat or vocal are allowed to go on too long- like the potentially great single 'Machine Gun', which is two good ideas stretched to a whole song; and the annoyingly stop-start dynamics of 'Plastic'. To return to an earlier point, the album seems rushed and unfinished.
You've got to wonder whether after waiting ten years for a third album, people with a vested interest in Portishead got itchy fingers and rushed this out. The problem is that the sheer sparseness of the arrangements really show the worse elements of Beth's vocals (the one paced, one tone, monotonous patterns grate). These things are flipped into positives on their previous work because the music filled the gap, but unfortunately here it leaves her vocals sounding like they're wearing a fur coat but no knickers.
A pretty average, tired sounding album, which frustratingly appears to be more about delivery and actually taking the time to finish it properly than lack of talent or ideas.
Release date: 28/04/08