Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Best of 2008: #1 Portishead - Third

Portishead - Third (*****)
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.


Milo McLaughlin said...

Meant to comment on this a while ago - I hadn't listened to Third until I read your review because I thought it would be a bit of a chore but I agree it's a superb album. Good work Broonster!

Anonymous said...

Third is a terrible album – it has flaws on every track, not all as obvious as the track that just cuts off unfinished! Only one or two good tunes, with Machine Gun being the only memorable track with a hook.
If you read up on the production of Third the band admit it themselves that they couldn’t face repeating the perfectionism of the Dummy production. Instead it was finally rush-produced in a deliberately haphazard way just to get it made. They were even playing instruments they could barely play, just to deliberately accept the imperfections. There are glaring flaws on every Third track.
I sympathise with them as it’s not just about hard work – if you’ve run out of great tunes, as all artists do, you might as well just get anything released. I also can understand the fear of starting a production of anything when you’re a perfectionist – you fear the OCD perfectionism so much that you don’t want to even begin, so just starting and letting it be imperfect is a lot easier, albeit, a cop-out.