Friday, December 5, 2008

The Best Records of 2008 - Portishead's Third

As a pretty big Portishead fan - their classic 1994 release "Dummy" is top 50 records of all time status with me - I was pretty excited when it was announced they would, after 11 years, release a very long awaited third record.

Said record, aptly titled "Third", may not be exactly what Portishead fans were expecting. In a lot of ways "Third" is less a reintroduction to a once beloved outfit and more an actual introduction to something different. The trip hop movement of the nineties, spearheaded by "bands" like Portishead as well as Massive Attack and Tricky, was pretty close to dead and, it seems, "Third" was basically the final nail in the coffin. When a group so tied to trip hop, as Portishead were, releases a record so outside the genre, you may as well just come to grips with the fact that it's over.

The good news is, this isn't a bad thing. Portishead version 2.0 is actually pretty awesome - they swell now and have synths and the drums kick in hard and fast at points. I think that's a ukulele driving the Beach Boys-esque harmonies in "Deep Water"! Beth Gibbons voice is still in tact though - as vulnerable as you remember it, but also as beautiful.

"Third" happens to be a revelation. It's not the easiest listen, but it's not supposed to be. Portishead were never easy and I wouldn't expect anything different from this new model. Just because they've made a different kind of record does not mean they should make it any easier for us. That's not to say I don't like easy - I do...very often. But, I also like to be rewarded for diligence and I stuck with "Third" and now it's unquestionably one of my favorite records of the year.

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