It’s been ten years since the world last heard from Portishead, the U.K. trip-hop trio, and they do not sound like they’ve spent the past decade going to therapy, listening to new music or making friends. Actually, they sound like they spent it locked in a tea cupboard underwater off the coast of Bristol, with a piped-in orchestral soundtrack from Dario Argento horror movies. Is this a problem?
No way — nobody ever listened to Portishead for their sparkling personalities or musical variety. What they’re brilliant at is obsessively textured studio dread, and Third is an unexpected yet totally impressive return. Beth Gibbons still has her high-pitched trill (“Wounded and afraid/Inside my head,” she sings in the opener, “Silence”— big surprise), but she’s just another sound effect in the audio creep show of Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. “We Carry On” is a smashingly claustrophobic two-note electro riff, with heavy echoes ofthe Silver Apples’ “Oscillations.” In highlights like “The Rip,” “Small”and “Machine Gun,” Portishead mix up dub, break beats, cathedral organ,Moroccan drones and even surf rock into a headphone album for sourtimes.