Third (Mercury / Island)

Phases & Stages


Third (Mercury/Island)

Mid-1990s Britain yielded some questionable pop pap, but Portishead was an exception. Singer Beth Gibbons, guitarist Adrian Utley, and multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow no doubt spent the last decade trying to shake a short-lived genre (trip-hop) that never really fit them. Smartly, the Bristol trio's first studio album since 1997 is free of the chopped samples and noir soundtracking that trademarked their sound, allowing them to create dissonance more organically. There's always been a spinning paranoia under Portishead's music, uncertainty never far from Gibbons' lyrics, and that hasn't been lost on Third. The unsettling "Hunter" unfurls like something out of a David Lynch movie, Gibbons purring, "My thoughts are taking over." Her matchless voice remains another instrument and now, free of the witchiness that dominated 1997's eponymous sophomore LP, she shines ethereal in the warm synth tide of "The Rip" and "Nylon Smile." The oscillations of Silver Apples are carbon-copied on midalbum standout "We Carry On," and from there, Third really starts droning, if you don't count throwaway banjo ballad "Deep Water." "Machine Gun" is Portishead's most jarring song yet, a stream of rapid-fire drum beats that smells like Germany 1981, and a psych-rock influence weaves into "Small," which rides a killer organ line and allows them to jam. Closer "Threads" brings it back to Portishead's old gloom and doom, Gibbons wailing, "I'm always so unsure," over fuzzy, foreboding riffage. Ten years later, they've managed to capture our paranoid times and sound transcendent as well.


The 2021-2022 Austin Music Awards Music Poll is underway. Vote now for your favorite bands, venues, and music until January 31.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Entanglement (Record Review)

Kahron Spearman, Dec. 13, 2019

Levitation Album Reviews
Dallas Acid
The Spiral Arm (Record Review)

Kevin Curtin, Nov. 8, 2019

More by Audra Schroeder
SXSW Interactive Conference Quick Cuts
The Signal & the Noise
Statistician Nate Silver on more data, more problems

March 15, 2013

SXSW Film Reviews: 'Kiss of the Damned'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

March 15, 2013



One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle