Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Time has not been kind to Portishead, the English group that, along with Tricky and Massive Attack, helped popularize the downcast electronic music known as trip-hop in the mid-1990s. That’s not to suggest that singer Beth Gibbons, guitarist-keyboardist Adrian Utley and everything-else guy Geoff Barrow don’t make a vital sound on Third, their first studio album together since 1997’s Portishead; there’s no reasonable way to claim that this supremely creepy record is the work of artists eager to cash in on a legacy and nothing more.

Rather, the band’s music seems to have been ravaged—not mellowed—by the passing of the years. Barrow’s production still borrows from state-of-the-art cut-and-paste technique, but everything on Third creakswith very human-sounding effort; nowhere do you get the cool lounge-noir blues of Portishead’s 1994 semihit “Sour Times,” which found a kind of glamour in despair. As a lyricist, Gibbons has become only more achingly dark: “Empty in our hearts / Crying out in silence,” she moans over screeching violins and an out of-tune guitar line in “Silence,” the CD’s opening track, setting a bleak mood that rarely brightens throughout the record. Though it makes you fear for the state of the members’ personal lives, Third exudes a gripping gloom; it’s like the musical equivalent of one of those time-lapse videos depicting the rapid decay of a piece of fruit.

Third (Mercury/Island)