Review Summary: Further proof that Massive Attack is the best at what it does
In 1991, Massive Attack released their first album, Blue Lines
, a wild fusion of electronic music, hip-hop, dub, ‘70s soul and reggae that would later come to define the genre known as trip-hop. Following a more mellow Protection
, they released Mezzanine
, an album that influenced artists such as Radiohead
, Zero 7
. Alongside DJ Shadow
is considered to be the quintessential trip-hop album, but 100th Window
, their following release featuring only the band's frontman 3D, polarized fans. Some called it a nice addition to their catalog while others began dismissing the band as a one album wonder.
So despite inventing the genre and mastering their own craft, newly reunited 3D and Daddy G’s latest release, Heligoland
, flew under the radar. Perhaps the lead single “Splitting the Atom,” a mediocre track and probably the weakest on the album, shouldn’t have been flaunted the way it was. Perhaps Massive Attack’s inability to recreate the raw energy of Mezzanine, a crutch that is particularly evident in the front half of this album, means they will never be relevant again. Or perhaps we’ve been too harsh.
“Psyche,” a short track featuring the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird
, may be nodding at Thievery Corporation
as they throw a mesmerizing beat that causes listeners to circle inside their own heads. But not only does this rival the very best the ESL records founders have ever recorded, it also manages to perfectly place itself as a centerpiece to the album. Topley-Bird is also featured on “Babel,” which, alongside “Pray for Rain” (voiced by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio
), crucially establishes a unique layered introduction that is thrown upon Mezzanine-worthy beats.
As “Paradise Circus” opens up the back half of the album, things really begin to take off. As powerful as it is minimalistic, Hope Sandoval’s voice perfectly matches the diverse percussion and sparse chords that form a gorgeous yet eerie marriage with the accompanying heart-wrenching strings. Before fully recovering, “Rush Minute” begins:
“I wanna be clean but I gotta get high
It’s good to be here so hard to come by”
Resonating most amongst those of us who have ventured deeper into narcotics, 3D’s words are given special attention as he displays his affliction and his escape gorgeously on stage for all to see.
Damon Albarn (Gorillaz
) and Guy Garvey (Elbow
) respectively lend voices to “Saturday come slow” and “Flat of the Blade,” two incredibly grating emotional pieces. While not for all moods, these are a couple of tracks that harness a lot of talent and bring very distinct and well-known male vocalists to levels of despair to which even they have not come close on their own.
However there are no criticisms to be made about the undersold “Atlas Air,” a gem that brings the album to a near perfect close. While at times this album marks a return to 3D and Daddy G’s hip-hop roots, “Atlas Air” has a sound owing more to “Idioteque” or Coil
than anything done previously. This is the type of music played at parties with deep, dark and druggy bass.
In Addition to the guests already mentioned, the late Jerry Fuchs added drumming to the album while Adrian Utley (Portishead
) played guitar on some of the tracks. Additionally, Elizabeth Fraser, Beth Orton, Mike Patton, Feist
and Mos Def
were among artists who hoped to collaborate with Massive Attack leading up to this album’s release. In short, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Massive Attack is a band that is still in very high demand.
seems to be about moving forward through darkness, with electronic beats that continually power you through the bleak atmosphere which manifests. Through the use of so many talented vocalists, it’s able to ingeniously display a wide variety of different perspectives on the same realities. Perhaps the monochrome rainbow and dejected, almost faceless image on the cover say more about this album than words possibly could. True, this is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those new to this style of music. But through and through, 3D, Daddy G and company continue to emerge with innovative and powerful new thoughts and ideas – a trend that isn’t likely to stop any time soon.