Portishead, Third

Portishead, Third

Ten years have passed since the last Portishead release, so it’s understandable that the trio has abandoned the sonar beats and turntablism of their trip-hop past with Third.

WINTER OF THEIR DISCONTENT: Portishead return with their first album in ten years, the gloomy and disaffected Third. (Photo: Eva Vermandel/Island Records)Ten years have passed since the last Portishead release, so it’s understandable that the trio has abandoned the sonar beats and turntablism of their trip-hop past with Third. Stuttering drum loops and high-pitched synths are pushed to the forefront, but the sleazy, Gainsbourg-inspired riffs and dysphoric atmosphere remain part of the core Portishead experience.

The cryptic first track, “Silence,” sets the tone for what’s to come, as it begins with a tape-hiss-encrusted Portuguese narration that roughly translates to: “Be alert to the rule of three. What you give back to you, that lesson, you have to learn. You only earn what you deserve.” Two minutes of staccato beats and menacing basslines percolate until, finally, the familiar tortured vocals of Beth Gibbons are brought in, mostly to refrain, “Did you know when you lost? / Did you know when I wanted?” until the track abruptly ends, appropriately, in silence.

Soft and deep tribal drum hits introduce the second track, the more accessible “Hunter,” which simmers with jazz-affected sounds as Gibbons plays the haunted torch singer, musing, “I stand on the edge of a broken sky / And I will come down; don’t know why / And if I should fall, would you hold me?”

Most of the album plays out in this prickly, festering vein, breaking out periodically with the pulsating synths of “The Rip,” the frustrated, crunching electric guitars of “We Carry On,” and the concise kick-beats of “Machine Gun,” which sound exactly as the title would suggest.

Third‘s weary coda, “Threads,” is an ode to ennui, that refreshingly, after 45-minutes of sonic departures, sounds like a sister to “Glory Box,” a top track from their 1994 debut Dummy — at least until it fades out into a minute-long, whale-like drone at the end. “Threads” is all anguish and self-doubt: “I’m worn out, thinking of why / I’m always so unsure / I battle my thoughts I find I can’t explain / I’ve travelled so far but somehow feel the same.” It’s an apt ending to Third, an album that, despite all the tinkering, presents Portishead as a still-fussy, still-discontented post-millennial lot.

In other words: more of the same, but different enough.