Difficult music is often ignored by the public, quickly pushed aside so that songs with hooks can fill radios and iPods. Unfortunately, that means many miss some of the most awe-inspiring music of our time. So instead of immediately grabbing the new Coldplay or Weezer albums, stop and consider the breathtaking journey of Third by Portishead.
Released earlier this year, Third does not have the warmth contained in so many catchy releases. A sense of dread and claustrophobia fill the entire album. Upon first listen, only a few things seem at all noteworthy – the amazing voice of Beth Gibbons and the interesting rhythmic changes throughout songs. But this album demands attention and a single listen will not suffice.
As you hear the songs again, layers are revealed. Innovative guitar lines creep along in almost every track, proving to be highlights in their own right (“Nylon Smile” is a particular highlight). Then the sparse drumming becomes evident. Never overdone, the percussion in each song seems appropriate and worthwhile. Electronics also touch Third in many places. However, they don’t seem an afterthought; each synthetic sound seems to further the efforts put forth by the conventional instruments.
Instead of being an album of individual parts, Third truly shines as a summation. This is seen in dramatic excellence in “The Rip.” Starting with synthetic noises, the band slowly adds on; first guitar, then voice, then drums. Surely the electronics would be nothing without the touching guitar that strums in the background. Clearly the whole thing would not seem as powerful without the well-executed drums that appear halfway through. It is obvious that emotion would be lost without the sorrowful performance by Beth Gibbons. Each layer relies on the others to form the deep, touching experience. This is clearly the work of a band and is absolutely breathtaking.
Lyrically, this album is no slouch either. By weaving personal tales of regret and rejection, the sorrow and paranoia offered in the musical content is mirrored. The band manages to be wide enough so that listeners can apply their own experiences, but each song seems clearly directed with underlying intent. The emotion feels real and never dips into a whiny brand of “emo.”
After being so clearly established in the realm of trip-hop, it is important to note that no references to Portishead’s prior work have been made thus far. Third, while clearly implying its follow-up status, stands on its own as a spectacular work. After moving beyond the initial play, the album offers listeners real depth and power. Despite decent chart performance in its first week, this is an album that should not be ignored. If you want a bit more from your music than conventional poppy ideas, Third offers a difficult but thoroughly rewarding experience.