Many of us go through certain musical phases. A couple years ago, while electronica was still in my roots, nu metal was my world
. At that point I, and so many others, felt that an album like Slipknot
were the greatest album of all time. It sounds ridiculous, but it's strange to think that I was so sure of it back then. It therefore makes it difficult for me to decide whether or not my high opinion of Mezzanine
is the same as my old love for Follow The Leader
and such albums. I honestly believe that I will regard Mezzanine as one the greatest albums of all time for the rest of my life, without a doubt. The rest of my life seems like a far cry from the seemingly short five years that I've been listening to Mezzanine, so there's really no way of knowing if it will retain its staying power.
I cannot fully explain the phenomenon that is Mezzanine, nor its nearly unequaled critical acclaim. What I can explore is how much of an advance for Massive Attack is was, and how it affects me.
After a brief hiatus, Massive Attack re-emerged in 1998 minus one member. Tricky had left for a solo career, unsurprisingly making music similar to early Massive Attack. How much of an impact his departure had on the band I'm not sure, but some factors must have caused them to change so dramatically. Massive Attack rose above their contemporaries such as Portishead
, with a new style. They had almost said goodbye to the indie, soul, and hip-hop influences that drove their previous albums. While Protection
showed a little electronic flair, Mezzanine was when instumentals fully surfaced as a key element of the band. From dark, brooding keyboards in the club-scene commentary Risingson
, to smooth, lush instrumentals in the 50's slow-jam Exchange
, Massive Attack helped reinvent an entire genre, although an obscure one.
What is also superior to the previous albums is the vocals. There is a smaller input from from the rather annoying reggae singer Horance Andy, whose vibrato style almost ruined Blue Lines' One Love
. He does appear on the opener, Angel
, but he sings in a more soft, subtle way. The other song of his, Man Next Door
, happens to be the only song on Mezzanine I find mediocre. It only seems mediocre compared to the greats like Teardrop
and Group Four
This brings me to absolute best thing about Mezzanine: Elizabeth Fraser. While Shari Nelson and Tracy Thorn are both perfectly decent singers (understatement of the year), they always seemed to draw attention away from the music for me, except in the case of the 1991 classic Unfinished Sympathy
. On the other hand, Elizabeth Fraser's voice is just plain perfect. It's more than perfect; it's divine. If I believed in God, I would imagine it to have a voice like hers. Her singing brings emotion to Massive Attack's songs that may have seemed inconceivable before. Fraser's ending to Teardrop makes it one of the most moving moments of the album. She just adds to much beauty to Mezzanine, and I do not think it would it would have made it so far without her.
Now, Robert Del Naja (also known as 3D) can't exactly shatter glass with his voice, but he makes an outstanding contribution as a vocalist nonetheless. With the newly-introduced dark atmospheres behind him, his amelodic murmurs are often chilling. On the title track, Del Naja creates an unnerving depth with the repeated lyrics "All these have flaws." On the earlier albums, his talk-rapping was as annoying as Andy's singing, but with the right background he makes quite a presence, especially on Massive's most recent release 100th Window
With the addition of instumentals and more refined vocals, Mezzanine manages to create a broad spectrum of emotions. I equate the contrast of tones to the contrast between the two main singers. Fraser is meant to represent the gentle, motherly yin, whereas Del Naja plays the male role of the strong, unyielding yang. After an album of ups and downs, the two sides to the dichotomy meet face to face in the final act, Group Four
. It begins with a creepy, crawling sound, and then an ever-so-dark bassline kicks off the song. The use of instrumentals is excellent here, casting a sad yet hopeful tone. Del Naja and Fraser take turns singing to each other, in some kind of dance of death. Del Naja's lyrics represent introversion and isolation, "A flask I drink of sober tea, while relay cameras monitor me, and the buzz surrounds it does, buzz surrounds." The buzz of the cameras represents a stark artificiality, while Fraser expresses the complete opposite. Her lyrics, "Daydreaming, admiring, being, quietly, open the world I hear the time of the starry sky turning over at midnight," obviously suggest a more warm, open embracing of nature and beauty. After five minutes of competition, Del Naja says "Flickering I roam," creating the illusion that the song is drawing to a close. The very quiet music is pushed forward by a crescendoing drum beat, joined soon after by a guitar. As it continually strums, you just know that something wonderful is about to happen, until everything finally comes to light with Fraser leading the majestic final movement. The music keeps speeding up gradually, until you feel like you can't take it anymore. It then reaches its inevitable decline into one of the most fulfilling releases I've ever heard. It leaves me with an impression that the two sides have found some kind of solace, maybe even in death.
Not quite to spoil everything, but to certainly put a damper to an otherwise perfect ending, the very last track is an alternative version of Exchange, with Horace Andy singing along. I recommend that you leave this song off, because Group Four is the true ending to the album. As I said, Mezzanine presents a broad range of emotions, most of which were brought about by Massive Attack's developments in production. Mezzanine is both a classic and a 5/5 album; a classic because of its redefinition of trip hop, and a 5/5 for being an almost perfect album in my eyes. Mezzanine is hardly perfect, but I would never say that there is even one bad
song. I refuse to even consider the possibility that Mezzanine is a "phase album," like some of my old nu-metal flames. I've never been surer about an album that I'll listen to it and love it for the rest of my life. It sounds naive, but I guess I just have that much faith in Mezzanine.