Third - Portishead

Universal acclaim - based on 38 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 35 out of 38
  2. Negative: 1 out of 38
  1. Portishead seem to be playing against intuition at every corner.
  2. That it’s Portishead’s best album yet is little short of miraculous.
  3. Exquisitely detailed, you can well believe that this is an album many years in the making and one with twice those years of pain inscribed in its emotionally wracked songs.
  4. Both ancient and futuristic, a mildewed signal from a more advanced culture that failed to survive the ice age, Third doesn’t make you pay attention to its desolate contours, but rather stare out of the window, creeping panic causing your mind to dart in a million dark directions at once.
  5. Released today, it instead feels like a staggering transformation and a return to form that was never lost, an ideal adaptation by a group that many people didn't know they needed to hear again.
  6. 100
    Third is the most stunning, stark and superb Portishead album yet. [May 2008, p.84]
  7. Portishead's third album is initially more a record to admire than to love, its muscular synthesisers, drum breaks and abrupt endings keeping the tension high. But after several listens, Third's majesty unfurls.
  8. Third is far and away the best, most punk thing in the Portishead catalog: a deeply transgressive album that bears a passing similarity to its predecessors but leaves most of the baggage behind in favor of a full-blown reset.
  9. 90
    It's hard to leave your comfort zone, especially with unrealistically high expectations, but the band successfully redefines itself without alienating their core audience. Welcome back, guys.
  10. Here, the sad sounds aren't quite so soothing, but that human element of Portishead gives them a sense of comfort, just as it intensifies their sense of mystery, for it is the flaws--often quite intentional--that give this an unknowable soul and make Third utterly riveting and endlessly absorbing.
  11. There's enough on Third (spaghetti-western guitars, organs, barking effects) to sate those who pine for the late '90s, but gone is the turntable scratching, ostensibly deemed too much of a relic from that decade; in its place are more electronic flourishes, like the cyclic synth-bass loop that softens the second half of "The Rip," a song which is proof positive that Goldfrapp would never exist without Portishead.
  12. Yet far from being miserable, this is a record substantially more alive than its eponymous predecessor.
  13. Never has a pit of despair sounded so inviting.
  14. Third is an unexpected yet totally impressive return.
  15. Third is a carefully rewarding record with enough inspired turns to entertain throughout.
  16. Even though not every twisted move they make on Third pays dividends, considering the stakes, consciously fucking with their formula is a bold gamble for which they should be saluted.
  17. 30
    It's groove-deprived and difficult, and not in a particularly inventive way. [May 2008, p.78]
  18. Ten years later, they've managed to capture our paranoid times and sound transcendent as well.
  19. Third is indeed a less immediately accessible effort than Portishead's more groove-oriented earlier work, but it's no less gorgeous.
  20. The album is consistently strong from start to finish with enough outstanding material to vault it into classic status right next to "Dummy."
  21. Pitch-shifting strings punctuate the background like reminders of the cinema of the past, but this Portishead doesn't wink at anything, eschewing style altogether. In our self-referential culture, an album like this is an aberration. Again.
  22. Third is about the potential for being, not being itself. It’s the base chemistry of the Portishead sound, a compound awaiting reaction. Which is up to the listener to produce, like the lightning that brings the Monster to life.
  23. The good news for people who love bad news is that Portishead have gotten better, too.
  24. Portishead's methods are hardly frozen in time. And that evolution is what makes these elaborately layered tracks such a knotty, mesmerizing listen.
  25. Third is a complete work of art to fully immerse yourself in, listened to start to finish.
  26. It's one of the most vital releases I've heard this year, and while I can hear fans of their past work being a bit puzzled, I simply can't imagine anyone not being at least a bit thrilled by it.
  27. Behind these minor tones and detached themes, Third emits a knowing and quiet confidence that communicates the band’s strongly held ideas, especially that of existential ennui.
  28. Though several doses of this languid, tension-filled music get a tad draining, taken altogether it is a suitable sound for our troubling times, and there's an invigorating mysteriousness.
  29. Anyone expecting a return to the slick cinemafunk of ’90s Portishead will be taken aback by Third, but though the album never reaches the eureka moments of old, it’s a welcome step into new territory and a more than satisfying downer dose to set against the onset of sunny days and ice cream.
  30. This is the late-night, beat-driven, torpid-languid music of a zillion coffee shops, sure, but with the blood drained out of it, a creepy-crawly, black-and-white-sounding thing that gets under the skin and stays there from the first play
  31. Long awaited comeback from Bristol trip-hop outfit proves worth the wait.
  32. Third concludes with a string of stunners that feature sawing cello, improvisatory bursts of horns, and the most cathartic vocal performance Gibbons has ever set to tape, respectively. [Spring 2008, p.79]
  33. 90
    As punk's dumbing down has proven, anyone can make abrasive music, but few can do something new and compelling with apocalyptic heaviness. That Portishead manage to do both 14 years into their recorded career is an unexpected triumph over the darkest clouds that have shaped their art and soul. [May 2008, p.93]
  34. 80
    Third shows Portishead in the tradition of, say, Fairpoint Convention as much as Massive Attack, and though it might not convert sceptics it is convincing, and occasionally thrilling, demonstration that the wilderness can be a great place to cook up new ideas. [May 2008, p.103]
  35. Listening to Portishead has always been like floating through a waking dream, but now the sleek edges have atrophied into a dusty chaos, and it's all the more beautiful and perfect for the change. [June 2008, p.136]
  36. Third will probably be more admired than listened to and, you suspect, this suits Barrow, just fine. [May 2008, p.131]
  37. 80
    It's been a long wait, but like reborn armies in the night, Third has the blare of revolution. [June 2008, p.70]
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 152 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 63 out of 82
  2. Negative: 9 out of 82
  1. Apr 28, 2011
    I've listened to this album several times over the past three years and each time I walk away with mixed feelings. On one hand, Beth Gibbons' wonderfully haunting vocals remain and make my ears happy. On the other hand, this is not the same Portishead that made me fall in love with them all those years ago.

    They've completely abandoned the classic Trip Hop sound that they essentially helped pioneer. Change is not always a bad thing, but I fear they they've ventured so far as to remove themselves from the realm of my tea cup.

    Third is by no means a "bad" album, but it's not a direct evolution of the sound that made Dummy and Self Titled so amazing either. It has moments of greatness, but to me falls flat more often than not. I probably won't ever stop listening to Third, but each time I do I'll wish wish it had been something more.
    Full Review »
  2. Mar 21, 2012
    Great third record from English experimenters. Not the most accessibly record you'll ever hear but it has loads of really good ideas that come together to make some really good tracks. The single, Machine Gun is my favourite track on it. This one sounds pretty much like it's title, and it's got a Terminator type theme climax to it. You have to listen to this to get what I'm talking about really. It's Portisheads' Kid A record. Unfortunately it's 4 years old now and who knows when we will get a follow up. Full Review »
  3. Oct 2, 2011
    This is not my favorite album (though it probably is my favorite portishead record), but for some reason I always want to hear it again, and I keep coming back to it. It is so jarring and abrasive at times, but it is also so original and forward thinking, that my initial reaction is always forgotten and I end up giving it another spin. Full Review »