Hooray for content!
"More of the same," is what I think of when listening to Portishead's Third. There are no huge stylistic departures from their first two albums; the genre remains the same. Yet, that is not a strike against them. Portishead were an inventive group when they released their first album, and Third continues on the same path in the so-called "trip-hop" genre. Though there aren't any big genre-related surprises on the album, the craftsmanshift and quality are astounding. It doesn't seem like they were M.I.A. for 10 years; they sound accomplished, refined, and fresh.
While the genre hasn't really changed, there are perhaps some new elements and updates to the Portishead sound. Some flirtation with industrial, as in the crunchy beat of "Machine Gun," or the cowbell in "Magic Doors," or the bluegrass-y "Deep Water" are new ground for the group. These new elements work well with the sort of patchwork, sampling style of Portishead and help to make each song sound unique. On the whole, the Third is remarkably consistent, despite each song being its own beast.
There are two songs on this album that reach over the 6 minute mark, which is certainly a stretch for a group making pop music. However, the songs ("We Carry On" and "Small") need to be that long and benefit from their length. The development, from the opening synth riff to the miscellaneous percussive touches to the bearly-noticable hook make the song remarkable and a real highlight. On their second album, 1997's Portishead, the songs seemed a bit overlong, dragging on without enough direction, but now the songs are tighter and more refined, where not a second is wasted.
Perhaps the only downside to the album is the moodiness. The band is just as depressing as they always were, the lyrics are typically bleak. Third isn't an album you listen to on your birthday or when you just won the lottery (unless you bought the album with your lottery money and want to mope about alienation from being rich). With the album being as consistent as it is, listening to it from beginning to end is only advisable when you're in the mood for something bleak.
Last Word: This album weirdly reminds me of Godflesh.
Recommended Songs: "Nylon Smile," "Plastic," "We Carry On"