A decade in the making, the UK trio’s third album is in fact, essential, venturing far enough outside their previous comfort zone—120 BPMs and climbing!—to not feel kitschy, while remaining recognizant of the magic found in their first two albums.
Fans from back in the day: Don’t feel put off if lead single “Machine Gun” doesn’t do it for you. This disc is all over the place, and it will convince you that you still have room in your life for Portishead. Consider “Hunter,” track two. A couple of sad guitars strum a soft saloon melody, accompanied by Beth Gibbons’ fragile vocals. Dissonant guitars crash in for the chorus, followed by a cut-time interlude of racing synths. This leads back to the saloon melody for verse two, where Gibbons sings, “I’m so confused.” Hardly. Third is so confident and intense that it’s impossible to mistake it as a grasp for relevance. They’ve updated their sound (lookout for a somewhat funky cowbell on “Magic Doors”), but the tone is still Portishead through and through. Has any band ever been more in the zone expressing the bleak and the miserable? (Or making beautiful love songs sound like laments?) Reconnect.
Christian W. Smith
File under: David Lynch soundtracks, cowboy funeral dirges, soundtracks for futuristic foreign movies where all hope is lost