Portishead never officially broke up after 1997’s self-titled sophomore album, but Geoff Barrow struggled to find inspiration for a followup. The resulting album is very different in feel from its predecessors – Portishead abandon the trip hop beats and cinematic feel that served them so well on their first two albums for different textures. Beth Gibbons’ voice is still at the forefront, and it still feels like Portishead, but a Portishead that’s updated for the 21st century with new rhythms and textures to play with.
‘Silence’ is a foreboding opener, with a chilling introduction, and Gibbons’ vocal isn’t introduced until midway though the song. It’s easy to imagine a song like ‘Nylon Smile’ fitting on their previous albums, but overall there’s more diversity on Third than either of the previous Portishead albums. Most drastically, the brief ‘Deep Water’, is based around a ukulele and gospel like backing vocals, while the self-explanatory rhythm of ‘Machine Gun’ was generated by running a drum machine through an organ.
Third is an improbably strong comeback album from a group who seemed like they were very much tied to a specific musical movement.