Album: Portishead, Third
It was never going to be the easiest of tasks — even for such a talented trio as Portishead.
Following up the flawless debut Dummy was one thing — and it took three years to produce the not-quite-as-good but nevertheless superb second album, Portishead.
Now, the Bristol band, back from an 11-year hiatus, have returned with a third record — Third — which nearly gives the perfection of Dummy a run for its money.
Despite the ridiculously long break, Portishead have lost nothing of their existential indie cool and mystery. This is a band that defies absolute categorisation.
Of course, along with Massive Attack they were labelled pioneers of the strange genre that is trip-hop — but even this pigeon hole does them no justice.
Theirs is a sound you cannot dance to — in truth it's one you can't even chill out to.
But Portishead's music has always had a sustainable beauty free of regard for contemporaries or peers.
Alternately dreamlike, then melancholically fragile, tunes have a strange ambiguity that leaves the listener spellbound.
Third has similar qualities — but, if anything, the music is a lot darker, sinister even. The band sound more troubled than ever — and none more so than singer Beth Gibbons, whose arresting vocals sound like a pained hybrid of Bjork and PJ Harvey.
Gibbons is the key to Portishead — and once again she delivers a quite amazing performance that gives the overall sound a creepy edginess.
Among the best tracks are the epic guitar-laced Hunter and Plastic. But the industrial-drenched Machine Gun and the New Order-like We Carry On are Third's most outstanding tunes.
Portishead will always be associated with the classic Dummy from 1994. With that collection of songs they raised the benchmark to an unbelievable height, one that will never be equalled.
With Third, though, the band have got darn close — a wonderful achievement in the circumstances.