"Third" is a radical change without a doubt. Every song is an isolated universe in and of itself, opening up a number of possible directions for the band. "We Carry on" is an intense, droning and panicked thing, while "Deep Water" is a cute little acoustic ditty with Gibbons as starry eyed folk singer. "Hunter" stays closest to the "Dummy" sound with its warm ambience, yet contrasts the gorgeous harmonies with jagged guitar outbursts.
"Machine Gun", suddenly, is minimal but hard electronica with mechanic sounding drum machine beats and jarring synthesizer sounds. And so the list goes on, different concepts being tried out in every song. The only thing that doesn't change much is Beth Gibbons' voice. Perhaps Portishead feels that this is necessary to keep the eclectic album together, but I had hoped to hear something more adventurous from her, knowing what she was capable of already in the late 90:s.
With all the styles on offer, "Third" sounds more like beginning than a return. I believe this is more than just an attempt to create distance from earlier releases. Portishead seems to be earnestly looking for a new place to go. Though an excellent album in many ways, "Third" sounds a bit transitional and never gives you quite get enough of anything to leave you sated.