Band: Portishead
Album: Third
Best song: “Machine Gun” and “Plastic” are amazing.
Worst song: I actually like every song on this record.

Coming in at no. 419 on the RS 500 list, Portishead’s debut album is a classic among classics. Indeed, to say that Dummy is the definitive trip-hop album and a joy. I’m not a big fan of electronic music, though I guess calling Portishead “electronic music” is kind of silly.

(Indeed, the term is about as descriptive as “rock music.”)

And, maybe this is forced, but I did want to spend January of 2009 writing a little about the best albums of 2008, or, at least, the most talked-about albums. So, earlier this week, you got Lil Wayne and this month will feature Kanye West, Fleet Foxes and The Daylight Brigade.

Third took 11 years to come out, though it’s not a Chinese Democracy situation. Instead, Third is simply a fantastic album showing a band departing from the sound it helped create. It’s not a downbeat record in the way that Portishead or Dummy are, though, it’s hardly a Daft Punk record. Beth Gibbons’ voice remains the best part of the band, but her sorrow is lessened and somehow, more effective than previous efforts. One listen to the album’s opening track (sample lyric: “Did you know what I lost?/do you know what I wanted?”) will quell any fan’s hunger for her sultry vox and sad-sack lyrics.

The group’s reliance on samples is pushed to the background and the band takes a more functional approach to songwriting. The album’s highlight, “Machine Gun,” uses a rapid-fire drumbeat, soothing organ and hard electronics to back up Gibbon’s oddly-scaled vocal track. The song takes a middle-section detour onto a different key, but remains a dynamic ride. “Plastic” has a wobbly lead line, movie-soundtrack heaviness and start-stop vocals, all sounds that Portishead eschewed in the past. It is, of course, brilliant.

The album flows with acoustic guitar, theremin and oh so many odd-styled drumbeats. If the band wasn’t so amazing and so stylized, it would be tough to recognize the sound, yet it still sounds like Portishead. A difficult feat, but the Bristol trio has accomplished it.

Rarely does a band expand on its sound while still keeping with the band’s signatures. The album’s final track could have been on the band’s previous two albums. I can hardly explain well as to why this album is great, but I can say this: It was worth waiting for.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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