By Clayton Purdom & Joel Elliott | 28 April 2008
[CLAY is sitting on a bench. He is comfortably not doing anything. He watches as JOEL is raised through a trapdoor to his right.]
CLAY: Hey Joel, what’s happening?
JOEL: Diaphanous exuberant hobgoblins puncturing undulating winds, booing boorishly but scythe-like enchantedly. Forego the niceties. A little-known Scottish outfit called: Texas. In Taiwan. Billowing smooth-techno—billow, billow. Billow. The word “zephyr.” Eclipsing arrhythmic struts: tripping the Seann William Scott fantastic!
CLAY: The fuck—
Joel: Siphon not from the band Morcheeba! Oh, lay low you lugubrious lovers of music! Two decades but cut in half we waited—so, one decade—expecting that the firesun would spin ‘round our heads again but again! But we would receive no pied piper piping; piping hot pies proclaiming the return of this dense drumwork, this maudlin croon, the cinematic chill. Foresooth! Woebegone not! Dialectical chill: for here—
[JOEL pulls a rabbit out of a hat.]
JOEL: —is Portishead’s third album!
CLAY: [Beat] Not including the live one.
JOEL: Not including the live one!
CLAY: And that’s not Portishead’s third album. That’s a rabbit. Is that a rabbit?
JOEL: It’s a stuffed one. It’s a stuffed dolphin, actually. I won it from this carnival once.
CLAY: Well, good illusion. So, do you like it? The record I mean.
JOEL: Irregardless garners my NetFlix cue toward steampunk pumping industrial-strength album-openers, the clamping maw of expectations disabused. Yonder Notwists and Postal Servi (plural) quiver in fear before Great RZA’s ghost!
CLAY: RZA’s not dead.
JOEL: But if he were—
CLAY: —the curtain at the temple would be shorn in two. Let’s not even joke. I know what you’re getting at, though. My old saw on Portishead is that Portishead (1998) features some of the best hip-hop production of the back third of the nineties. Something in that fractured menace recalls, more than any other producer, the grand abbot of the Wu, even if methinks I hear a bit more Primo in the drums’ DNA, but w’ever. I do hear some Shaolin on Third, which for a guy like me is heartening. Like, wouldn’t we just shit ourselves if “Hunter” was the source material for something off the never-coming Cuban Linx 2 or (to open things up a little bit) wouldn’t “Magic Doors” be a strange and wonderful thing to hear, say, Lupe or P.O.S. or Beanie rap on? The answer is yes. These moments sound great to me, but I can’t help but feel the drums are a bit underserved on the album as a whole, especially when before they functioned as the bedrock. Whatever Portishead had planned in the 11-year interval between album two and album Third, it wasn’t to find a more crowd-pleasing sound. Is this really the band that spearheaded the genre now best represented by Thievery Corporation and Nightmares on Wax?
JOEL: Trip-hop not the light fantastic! Banish the following words from your vocabulary and into oblivion: “smooth,” “soulful,” “flow,” “jazz,” “adult alternative,” “blimey.” Is this your card?
JOEL: Then why is it in your breast pocket!!!
[Smoke emerges from JOEL’S hand, and he falls to his knees pointing at CLAY’S torso. CLAY removes a piece of paper from a pocket on his shirt.]
CLAY: I didn’t even know this shirt had a breast pocket…
JOEL: And you also didn’t know that Portishead was working on its third record, did you?
CLAY: No, did you?
JOEL: Don’t worry about it!
[JOEL breathes fire.]
JOEL: Curate thy festivals, sleeping lambs! Reemerge in grainy cellphone-fed footage on Your Tube! You, too, buh-ddy! Am I blowing your mind?
JOEL: Then so shall these sounds, strangely arranged, fractured and delicate, sitting in clean space against one another atop Mount Hype. What the fuck is that end-of-first-Terminator-movie synth doing at the end of “Machine Gun” besides reminding you of the first Terminator movie? True or false: the track is an allusion to Peter Brötzmann, Jimi Hendrix, Slowdive, or an actual machine gun?
CLAY: True. No, wait: false. Wait. I think that’s actually a multiple choice question.
JOEL: Wrong on both counts!
CLAY: Well, irregardless…
[MARK THE GRAMMAR BEAR enters bearing books.]
MARK THE GRAMMAR BEAR: Roar! “Irregardless” isn’t a word. It’s a lazy portmanteau of “irrespective” or “regardless” that through its double-negative expresses the exact opposite of what you intend it to mean.
JOEL: Thus solidifying the vast paradoxes of darkness and light that epitomize this unholy work of art!
MARK THE GRAMMAR BEAR: What does that even mean?
CLAY: Again, Magical Joel, I see what you’re getting at. Portishead seem to be playing against intuition at every corner. When all I wanted was big drums they gave them to me, albeit ones more KMFDM than DJ Shadow. Then they plopped an acoustic track in the middle of the record just to fuck with us even more, and even though I think they think “Deep Water” is a better track than it is, it’s effective on initial run-throughs.
MARK THE GRAMMAR BEAR: I need honey. [Exits]
JOEL: Ah, the rub: though this Head might have opted to surf atop the dark clouds of albums past—both of them, that is—instead the music cushions the pitiable gloom of Gibbons’ voice. Witness the black magic of “Silence,” whose abrupt ending will force poor chumps to download numerous additional copies until they realize they must suffer their own impotence!
CLAY: Yeah, that kind of pissed me off. Do you really think the album is all that, erm, challenging, though? I mean, it’s strange enough that it’s somehow turned into like “the major release of the spring”—what, indie world, She & Him wasn’t enough?—but now it’s also being touted as some mindfuck of a record. In actuality, everybody seems to kinda like it, including Mark the Grammar Bear. WTF, Magic Joel.
JOEL: Indeed, what sorcery is this? What alchemical principal have they used to turn their wild card left field listening habits of the past decade (witness their oh-so-avant ATP lineup) into this bewitching entertainment? This is pop music made of the bones of science! Witness the sustained distortion that rises like a dark mist over “Hunter.” Feel your heart race at the precipice that hangs off of the end of the line “Will I follow?” on “The Rip,” as if the band hath stolen Gibbon’s voice and rode off with it on those dark horses! Hear how the tension of the distorted horn frenzy at the end of “Magic Doors” is suddenly cut in two by the piano chords which resolve it, allowing maudlin lyrics like “I’m losing myself / My desire I can’t help” to transcend their humble origins! Exit the theater with the grim presence of Gibbon’s possessed warble that closes out “Threads!” Watch aghast as I pull a very long scarf out of my fist!
[JOEL pulls a very long scarf out of his fist.]
CLAY: [Clapping] I was hoping there would be more magic. So where are you at on this thing score-wise?
Joel: Four score and two.
Clay: We’ll compromise on that.
[BOOGZ cross-country skis by, holding a pot of honey. MARK THE GRAMMAR BEAR chases after him.]
Joel: Actually, Third is the best album of the millennium.
Clay: I hate the internet.