Friday, May 09, 2008

Review: Portishead - Third

Label: Mercury

Released: April 29, 2008

Lots of people are complaining that Third doesn't sound like Portishead. These people are smoking crack. In fact, they're probably trying to smoke crack through their ears, which means the crack smoke is blocking out the music.

I don't get the complaints of the crack smokers. Third sounds like Portishead. It is filled with the gorgeous richness and depth that made Portishead famous. No, it's not a repeat of Dummy or Portishead, but it builds upon them. It's the next logical step in a wonderful progression of music.

Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons, and Adrian Utley are exploring new sounds, and they're doing it in a way that stays true to the overarching sound of Portishead. There are beats on this album that are unlike anything the band has ever done before. Many of the arrangements possess the same understated complexity as great movie scores by Ennio Morricone or Bernard Herrmann (who composed for Alfred Hitchcock). "Deep Water" is simply Gibbons voice over a ukulele, yet it possesses all of the emotional vulnerability for which Portishead is known (and it even adds a hearty dash of hopefulness).

The only flaw I can find is that the compositions occasionally wander too close to the generic minor-key tension that has become a goth cliché. It's a flaw that musicians of this calibre should have recognized, but on an album this good, it's completely forgivable.

Satriani: 9/10
Zappa: 9/10
Dylan: 8/10
Aretha: 9/10
Overall: 9/10


If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.

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Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

yeah, I've been totally wanting to hear this; did you get this on promo?

7:15 AM  
Blogger taotechuck said...

Nah, I got it on CD. My promo player is busted.

12:01 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

I actually heard some of this last week as a passenger in a car (meaning I could just listen) and I wasn't very impressed. Maybe it was that I couldn't not concentrate on the fact that the singer was weak and sounded like me when I go out of range. I also have a feeling that I'm going to get roasted for this, but it sounded like alt-Muzak. I just don't understand the big deal. I'm going to put on my flak vest now.

3:07 PM  
Blogger taotechuck said...

You can take off the flak jacket, Hatter. Obviously, listening to the Beach Boys negatively effected your hearing or something. It happens. It's like the way that people can get sick if they hang out in hospitals too much. If you listen to the Beach Boys too much, it becomes harder to recognize good music.

Give it a few listens before you make up your mind. It's one of those that doesn't necessarily grab you right away. And as for the singer being weak, I think the thing you're calling "weakness" is actually one of her strongest assets. There were tons of trip-hop singers who had stellar, clear-as-a-bell voices, and they all blended into the woodwork. One of the things that makes Portishead shine over the bands that copied them is the combination of flaws and perfection. Think of Beth Gibbons' voice as the musical equivalent of Marilyn Monroe's mole.

3:43 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

Well, I can see how her weakness may be a strength, but I was utterly hypnotized by the fact that she couldn't sing, and this bothered me. Maybe you're right -- those Beach Boys harmonies may have altered my sense of musical balance. Wouldn't it be nice if I had never heard it ever again?

11:58 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

Funny how fans recognize (and appreciate) when some bands evolve ... yet damn others with the most heinous curses when they grow in a direction the fans don't like.

(For the latter, see "Metallica," "Genesis," "Rush," and "Savatage," among others.)

6:39 PM  
Blogger taotechuck said...

You've got a point, David. A few thoughts...

Maybe it's not simply evolution we seek, but evolution in a "positive" direction. To use a poor metaphor, we want our children to grow and evolve, but not into drug dealers or politicians. It's not the presence of change that we damn, it's the specific change.

Or maybe we simply want our favorite bands to grow and evolve in the same ways that we grow and evolve. To use another poor metaphor, a married couple usually hopes they will evolve in similar ways throughout their lives. Husband-and-wife marine biologists may encounter some problems when he wakes up one morning and realizes that his dream is to become a sushi chef. He hasn't necessarily grown in a negative direction, but simply in a different direction.

And sometimes, people simply become boring. We lose touch with our souls, become corrupted by money and power, or simply behave as if we've already done all we're going to do. If we do change, we make changes that are relatively meaningless to anyone but ourselves.

I think most bands fall into the last category. The Stones may have changed in the past 30 years, but their changes have been inconsequential to the overall body of rock music. (For me, Rush and Metallica both fall squarely into this category.)

Genesis might be a good example of the first point above. They went from being intelligent and exciting to being a simple pop band, which is a distinctly negative evolution for many prog lovers. (I don't like any Genesis albums, so I'm trying to be objective on this one and leave my personal tastes out.)

For me, U2 is a good example of the second. My personal tastes and U2's sound evolved in parallel all the way through Pop, but then our paths split. I respect the changes U2 has made, but their last few albums don't resonate with me at all.

2:26 PM  

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