Saturday, May 03, 2008
CD Review No 12 - Portishead - Third
After ten years in semi-retirement Portishead return, a renewed and snarling beast. After their debut album 'Dummy' defined a whole musical era, the follow up album found it difficult to break out of the iconic style they'd created single handed. Perhaps a long break was the only way to resolve whether that really was it, or did they have more to say? On the evidence of 'Third' we have to resoundingly say 'Yes they do.'
The hip hop & dub influences are largely dropped, for a much starker sound scape, to offset against the frail melancholy of Beth Gibbon's voice. This is no where more clearly demonstrated than on 'Machine Gun' - a barrage of electronic drum sound is fired at you with harsh military precision, then Beth's voice comes plaintively in with the words :-
'I saw a saviour, a saviour come my way, I thought I'd see her in the cold light of day, But now I realise I that I'm, only for me. If only I could see. Return myself to me. Recognise the poison in my heart. There is no other place. No one else I face. The remedy you will agree, is in how I feel.'
What you are hearing sounds strangely evocative of a traditional folk melody, with words updated to recount some nuclear, industrial or emotional wasteland.
Stylistically the album draws on a wide range of musical resources, apart from folk. There is the dreamy lachrymose tinged track 'Hunter', or the devilish dance track 'We Carry On', sounding like a demented Joy Division, but more discordant, and more despairing. 'Machine Gun' itself, is the cold hearted offspring of Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode. Some tracks, such as 'Plastic' seem to hark back further, to seventies progressive rock - of a malformed Wishbone Ash. All the while, they remain resolutely contemporary, and could be nothing else but Portishead. I doubt if a harder, more brutal, or sonically more challenging CD will come out this year.