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Return of Portishead

Updated on January 8, 2009

One reunion that actually bore fruit

In an interview last year, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth said the biggest mistake he and his band mates made was not breaking up. Had they done so, and then reunited, he said he would have probably arrived for the interview in a limo.

A lot of bands this last year did exactly that, and I'm sure they cashed in nicely. The Police, Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, even the Spice Girls, put together a reunion and hopped on the festival tour. None of them, though, to my knowledge have released new material. My Bloody Valentine was rumored to be putting together a follow-up to their 1991 masterpiece Loveless, seventeen years later. The frontman Kevin Shields said they were "100% going to make another... record unless we die or something," but that was last January.

Portishead, however, one of the trip-hop pioneers of the mid-90s, put out their first new material in over a decade in October. It's called Third, and it's a lot different than their previous two albums. Although the trio reformed with the same lineup, I'm happy to see that the group has developed since they last left us. Not necessarily for better or worse, but at least they're not pumping out the same old recipe, like the Sex Pistols or the Eagles, just to collect a paycheck.

If you listened to Beth Gibbons' solo project, you might have agreed that she needed her Portishead boys behind her. Her smoky, haunting voice has lost none of its dark sex appeal, but she has unmistakably strayed from the recognizable choruses she used to write. Instead her vocals hang in the breeze like eerie missives on a Halloween night, offering no clear direction home. Now that she's back with the band, the music gives those whispers the electronic muscle needed to give the songs meat and backbone.

As stringy guitars and wavering strings set the mood to brooding, beats and distortion drop in on you like steel doors crashing shut. Even when you're not listening to what Gibbons is singing, the message sounds foreboding. I wouldn't recommend this album if you're pouring wine for a date over dinner, but it might work well if you recently had a date walk out on you. Pour yourself a tall glass of absinthe and let the notes paint the evening different colors. When the song "Hunter" sneaks into the trippy synthesizer section, you'll think to yourself that there are better things than clarity and elation.


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    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I'm a Portishead fan! eversince that Levi's ad where their music was featured - Glory Box. unfortunately for me, can't find their new CD in my part of the world. had to settle for downloads :(