When Portishead released Third in April of this year, I was not immediately impressed. I had a hard time warming up to the relentless percussive blasts of "Machine Gun" or Beth Gibbons' dreary vocals, which never quite seem to lock into a proper melody or harmony.
I forgot about it until Radiohead covered Portishead's "The Rip" earlier this summer. I checked out the original version to find that Portishead's was actually better. From there, I looked into Third with fresh ears and listened to the whole thing from start to finish (while stuck in miles of traffic just outside of Long Island).
What I found is that Third is, like many other great albums, highly textural. My snippet listenings were not doing the music justice, because it must be listened to as one cohesive work in order to be fully appreciated. Gibbons provides lead vocals unlike those featured in almost any other band. Her voice leaks into Geoff Barrow's dense arrangements of strings and drums and becomes no more or less important than the other components. The music is smooth, rich, and unmelodic, yet it somehow invokes the mood of a 50's nightclub ballad. Weird.
Here's a sampling, but buy the whole album. Really: