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  • Third

Album by Portishead.

Island Records

Third is an unnecessary album. From the beginning, all Portishead needed in the way of legacy was a pair of albums that felt like they'd dropped out of nowhere — somebody's attic, maybe, or rescued from the flooded basement of a bankrupt '70s soul label. Portishead built songs carefully out of just a few elements — drums (always blurring the distinction between sampled and live, sparse, spooky guitar, and the centerpiece of it all, Beth Gibbon's lilting, anguished voice.

Dummyand Portishead are simply elegant, grown-up albums that manage to be so without feeling elitist or pretentious. The mystery, ecstasy, and sensuality of the band was inscrutable — one doesn't even feel the pull toward dissecting the song's elements or speculating about the source of the samples. It's as if songs like "Glory Box" and "Cowboys," samples included, were always just meant to be — like the people who were sampled didn't realize the real meaning of their original tracks until they became a part of this otherly thing.

But man, all of that gets shattered when the band's founder, Geoff Barrow, starts a MySpace pages where he blogs about hating bands like Gorillaz, and doesn't want Portishead's music used in commercials, and frequently peppers his misspelled posts with the word "fuk" (sic) like a petulant 14-year-old. Portishead does not belong on the Internet, should not give interviews (thankfully, Gibbons doesn't), and ought to only exist as a cloud of existential mystery hovering near Bristol.

But Thirdis out, it's Portishead, and it's dark and scary and beautiful, so we might as well live with it. There are a few songs that retain those elements of '90s Portishead — "Hunter" recalls "Glory Box" with restrained elegance — but the most interesting bit is an unexpected one.

"Deep Water," not even two minutes long, is an absolute revelation. A plunka-plunka ditty that could easily have been a 1920s pop hit, with backup vocals that resonate with the warmth of a barbershop quartet on AM radio. That they manage to pull this off on an album full of what has come to be called "trip-hop," without making it feel the slightest bit out of place, proves that Portishead deal not so much in genre as in mood. The band says as much with a ukulele as they do with the relentless drum machine of "Machine Gun" or the evil foghorn synthsounds of "Threads."

It's also a rare glimmer of light from the self-hating that Gibbons perpetrates throughout "Third," as she sings, "No matter how far I drift, deep waters won't scare me tonight." It's just barely buoyant on an album that sounds like drowning, but "Deep Water" is a signpost suggesting that just maybe there's still hope.

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Joel Hartse

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