Portishead - Third
Since their appeal slipped right past me back when they were supposedly giving Massive Attack and Tricky a jog through the trip-hop haze, I had nothing invested in their third record in 14 years. All my cavils about Beth Gibbons' voice duly noted, I found that her arid, pinched yelp rubs up against the piston beats, yards and yards of ugly guitar, and even uglier synth lines in a much more eloquent manner than the sounds she pries from her larynx, which I'm assuming are lyrics. Lots of reviews have noted that Third is "out of time" – it could have been released in 1999 as an answer record to Mezzanine or Angels With Dirty Faces, etc. To me this is a subtle indictment – rootless melancholia can seem like nostalgia if you don't concentrate hard enough. But the sequence from "We Carry On" through "Machine Gun" is rootless melancholia of the first degree; the music swells, contracts, swells again, and bursts. It's the history of rave culture and trip-hop in 13 minutes, complete with Belgian beehive synth sounds and a submerged harmony that's perfectly out of time. I still wish Gibbons was a person instead of a spectre – it's the crucial thing keeping this record from greatness – but playing to her weaknesses makes this very bitter pill go down.