This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press on March 2, 2008.
The two albums that Portishead released in 1994 and 1997 still sound otherworldly, no matter how many times we’ve heard then. After a long hiatus, the British trio has returned, sounding stranger than ever. As forlorn and heartbroken as always, singer Beth Gibbons manages to sound simultaneously distant, like a beacon from another planet, and close, like a whisper in your ear. In spite of the occasional ukulele strum, “Third” tends more toward aggressive beats than previous Portishead records, at times resembling a computer simulation of a rivet factory or the weapon in the title of one song, “Machine Gun.” The noise never gets downright nasty, and somehow the combination of sharp sonic shocks with Gibbons’ mournful crooning is soothingly bittersweet.