Massive Attack
Heligoland


3.5
great

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
January 20th, 2010 | 122 replies | 29,215 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Rarely has the phrase 'return to form' been more accurate.

There are a whole lot of thing I don't like about greatest hits albums, but one of the big ones is that they tend to obfuscate the realities of an artist's work. I'm not just talking about all the great album bands who are usually judged based on a tiny collection of arbitrarily chosen singles; I'm talking about all the bands who try to make people forget about a poor album by following it immediately with a Best Of. Yes, Massive Attack, I'm looking right at you.

Collected didn't just make people forget about how crushingly disappointing 100th Window was, it made people forget how long it's been since then, too (7 years to the day, for the record). It was cynical and deliberate, and the marketing for Heligoland has been suitably shameless. 'The first album with Daddy G in 10 years!' And how many studio albums have been released in that time? Oh wait, it's only one, isn't it? 'A return to the sound of Mezzanine!' So a return to the sound of one album ago, then.

And yet, for all the raised eyebrows and tuts the build-up to Helioland has produced, the most remarkable thing about it is that it instantly blows away the cobwebs. The 7 years have been spent wisely - this is exactly the album Massive needed to make after 100th Windows. The only real disappointment is that it took so long.

The line about this being a return to Mezzanine is a half-truth, in all honesty; it's a definite return to the darkness of that album, but there's plenty of 100th Window here too, the bad ideas from that record have just been dumped and the good ones have been given a better context to operate in. There's a whole new level of influence going into this, too, and for perhaps the first time, you'd struggle to call it hip-hop. Certainly, it's hip-hop filtered through Prefuse 73 and Flying Lotus more than through Massive's earlier albums. The drums shake and rattle rather than roll; the first two tracks especially have got rhythm tracks ripped straight from the funkier side of IDM. It's a bold and smart step from the band, and in the doomy "Pray for Rain", it results in a song that ranks among their best ever.

That's one immediately apparent change; the other is the guests. There are loads of them, some not even mentioned on the tracklist - you'd probably expect Horace Andy and Martina Topley-Bird, and Adrian Utley showing up to play guitar isn't so out of the blue, but Damon Albarn? Hope Sandoval? Guy Garvey? Tunde Adebimpe? Jerry 'Lift!!!' Fuchs? It almost looks like a mixtape. Apparently contributions from Elizabeth Fraser, Beth Orton, Mike Patton, and Terry Callier were rejected too; if true, that's seriously ballsy, and definitely worth giving the band credit for. Clearly namedropping wasn't their aim, and neither was repeating the past - just imagine how much easy hype they could have scooped up just by putting Fraser on the tracklist and labelling it as the sequel to "Teardrop".

The guests at least give a listener an easy way to judge how successful each individual song is, and why. Damon Albarn's turn on "Saturday Come Slow" makes it easily the weakest song on the record - frankly this belongs on a Blur B-sides compilation, and even there it wouldn't stand out - while Elbow's Garvey and Mazzy Star's Sandoval put in star turns and lift their songs from 'good' to 'great'. Yet behind all that, the willingness to take contributors on board is matched by their willingness to learn new trick from the artists they spawned. It's most obvious on "Atlas Air", a track that nods so obviously toward DJ Shadow's "Organ Donor" it's practically headbutting it, yet there are more than a few deft touches learned from Portishead; there's even a couple of ideas you could probably trace to acts like Red Snapper. Does that make it derivative? Not at all; what's the point in being the master if you're going to stand still and let your students overtake you?

This album, despite its power and consistency, is probably doomed to a lukewarm reception, mostly because it's not as good as Protection or Mezzanine, but also because it's not as good as Portishead's Third, an album it will undoubtedly suffer countless unfair comparisons with. Yet there's certainly no shame in falling behind three albums that are as brilliant as those are. For the fans, this is a blast - suddenly, trip-hop's Godfathers are back on track.



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Further proof that Massive Attack is the best at what it does...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Gyromania
January 20th 2010



15461 Comments


Fantastic review, Nick. It's highly unlikely anything they ever do will top Mezzanine for me. I think I'll download this. The praise you give it suggests your rating should be a little higher, however.



AtavanHalen
January 20th 2010



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Bitchin'. I cannot wait to hear this.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
January 20th 2010



3765 Comments


Intrigued.

Digging: Caribou - Our Love

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2010



31053 Comments


Skeptical

Digging: Marcel Dettmann - Fabric 77

bloc
January 20th 2010



34735 Comments


same here Dev, but it's Massive Attack.

Digging: Messiah - Choir of Horrors

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2010



31053 Comments


I know, but Splitting The Atom just did not do it for me at all

bloc
January 20th 2010



34735 Comments


i didn't like it much either, but i'll definitely give this a listen.

Geist
January 20th 2010



371 Comments


I agree with Gyro. This feels like a 4 review, the way you wrote it.

I will definitely be purchasing this compact disc, however.

RobotFrank
January 20th 2010



344 Comments


Martina Topley-Bird and Hope Sandival? You sold me.

RoshanC
January 20th 2010



219 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

good review, when exactly does this come out?

I'm annoyed they're releasing bonus tracks on the itunes version, seems to piss in the faces of those who (at a probably greater cost) bought a physical copy

Iai
Emeritus
January 20th 2010



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Official release is the first week of Feb, I think.

robin
Emeritus
January 20th 2010



4247 Comments


nice review, will have to get

but one of the big ones is that the tend to obfuscate the realities of an artist's work


is that the supposed to be they? if not my bad

AggravatedYeti
January 20th 2010



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

seriously can't wait for this.

tomr4
January 20th 2010



192 Comments


it's all right. a few good tracks but nowhere near as consistent as mezzanine.

jagride
January 20th 2010



2286 Comments


Haven't heard it yet but its disappointing that the Mike Patton track didn't make the cut

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2010



16083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I agree about 92% with this review.

Iai
Emeritus
January 20th 2010



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I swear to God I only ever make glaring spelling errors in the opening paragraphs of reviews.

Sabottheory
January 20th 2010



355 Comments


100th Window ruled, this should be pretty good based on Splitting the Atom and Paradise Circus.

Prophet178
January 20th 2010



6397 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

What track is Fuchs on?

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
January 20th 2010



23801 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think I'm one of the few people to give Mezzanine a rating less than 4 (I gave it a 3.5) so that means this will be like....a 2 for me? Whatevs, I'll check it out anyway.



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