Back in 1997, when Portishead's self-titled second album arrived, the group's sound was routinely described as trip-hop. Eleven years later, that term is as dead as Fatty Arbuckle, but Portishead is alive again, and more captivatingly obtuse than ever.

"I never had the chance/To explain exactly what I meant," lead singer Beth Gibbons murmurs at the conclusion of the lovely "Nylon Smile" — and that's just as well, since she and collaborators Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley thrive on lyrical and musical abstraction. "Silence," the opener, is pleasingly jagged, and while a few of the tunes, such as "The Rip" and "We Carry On," utilize somewhat retro tones, the likes of "Plastic," with its chopper-blade sample and clangorous insertions, feel wholly contemporary.

The hiatus is over, and just in time.




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