PARIS (AFP) - After 10 years in never-never land, Britain's "trip-hop" heroes of yesteryear, Portishead, return with a new sound this week, saying "We always knew we'd get back."
"It's very very cool," said guitarist Adrian Utley of one of Britain's most outstanding bands of the 1990s. "Portishead never truly separated, these 10 years have passed quickly.
The group's third studio album, aptly titled "Third", gathers Utley with the two other founder members of the trio, singer Beth Gibbons and multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow.
Portishead took its name from the small town near Bristol where they formed in 1991, making headlines with the group's first album "Dummy" (1994) followed by "Portishead" (1997) and the superb live recording "Roseland NYC" (1998).
Their songs, which churn out rare stomach-churning spleen, are flavoured with jazz, hip-hop, soul and film themes from the 1960s and 70s such as Ennio Morricone, John Barry, etc.
Portishead came to be hailed as the leaders of "trip-hop," a term invented by the press to characterise their music and that of other Bristol artists Tricky and Massive Attack. The branding, said Utley was "annoying".
"What was considered to be trip-hop was Massive Attack, Tricky and us. But we don't sound the same at all, we're very different," he told AFP. "Trip-hop applied to some bands that sounded like us, all of us, and took bits of all os us and made music, which is not that interesting."
After the group's "Roseland" tour, the trio took indefinite leave.
"We were playing headline festivals with 30,000 people. That was too big for Portishead and that was stressful as well."
"We hadn't got any more ideas for Portishead really," he added. "We just went home and we didn't really talk about it. It was just like we've done such a lot of work, there was no discussion about in so many years time we'll start to make a record."
All three pursued individual projects, with Barrow and Utley working with other musicians and a solo album for Beth Gibbons ("Out Of Season", 2002).
"In 2001," Utley went on, "Geoff and I went to Australia seven weeks to work in a studio and just started doing a record. But it just didn't happen, didn't feel like the music we wanted to present to the world."
Long-awaited, "Third" (Island/Universal) took four years of polish from the ultra-perfectionist band but emerged impressive, with the Portishead stamp still there though the sound has evolved considerably.
The guitars, often aggressive, are highly noticeable, with high-pitched distortion and dissonance set over a faster tempo than fans will be used to.
Guided by a resolutely experimental ideal, "Third" mixes the influences of Krautrock (German rock of the Seventies), industrial rock, electro minimalism, unusual, slow Black Sabbath style heavy metal, contemporary music and free jazz.
"It's the same people with the same mindset, just 15 years later," said Utley, who is 51 while Gibbons is 43 and Barrow 36. "We've listened to a lot of music."
As always with Portishead, the atmosphere is black and leaden, with feelings of anger and sharp concern.
"It's a shitty state we're in in England, I think, politically and everything, being disappointed and let down.
"The person we all had such hope in, the party, just turned out to be not much better than we had before. We ended up in a war where we didn't want to be."
Portishead are currently touring Europe.
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