'Third' Time's A Charm

Sandwiched in the fertile years that separated grunge from the Spice Girls was Portishead, a band that didn't change, start or inspire much of anything.

Sandwiched in the fertile years that separated grunge from the Spice Girls was Portishead, a band that didn't change, start or inspire much of anything. But its two albums of trip-hop noir are suspended in the memory of that generation, beautiful and singular.

Eleven years later, "Third" (Mercury) doesn't fit in the canon. The torch song melodies and crackly samples are gone, replaced by psych-guitar and gothic folk. Tense elements like a skidding tire thump ("Plastic") or an angry shaker ("We Carry On") put the entire collection eternally on the ledge, teetering between order and oblivion.

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.

Says principal member Adrian Utley, "It's the same mindset we've always had, only further down the road."