album re-review for the skinny
Let's admit it: Third is a flawed album. A handful of songs, including the mesmerising opener Silence, end too quickly, and Hunter is ambitious but lifeless. But then again, flawless music doesn't necessarily mean great music, and criticism of some parts doesn't preclude appreciation of others. Third arrived 11 years after Portishead's second, self-titled, but it borrowed just as much from two other brilliant 1997 releases: Bjork's Homogenic, whose Hunter shared a song title as well as similar foreboding, jittery atmospherics; and OK Computer. Radiohead's version of pre-millenium tension is extrapolated and realised by Portishead's Third as paralyzing post-millenial fear. Plastic's enclosing and vanishing chopper; We Carry On's militaristic technological threat; the bare, unrelenting violence imagined by Machine Gun; the ghoulish guitar slashing of Smalls; and the deep bass alarms that close out Threads; combine to form some of the most affecting passages of the decade.
Parts of Third may underwhelm, but that's OK, because it's not adherence to preconceived standards that make us really love music, it's the unexpected moments of glorious invention that gives us the little squirt of dopamine and the reflexive smile. In this case, imagine instead a wall of monitors lighting up in terror to alert HQ to the bursting of a reservoir wall: Third doesn't cause smiles, it creates gapes.