Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 38)
Sometimes an album establishes a sonic identity so perfectly that nobody even tries to sound like it. Massive Attack’s debut album established a foundation that hundreds of acts have been pulling from ever since. Massive Attack’s third album, Mezzanine
, has such a thought out tactile feel that it’s sonic blueprint has had a larger influence on film than music. Mezzanine
is equal parts beauty and madness. Siren songs pull you further down an alley until you can’t hear them anymore and shadowy figures are emerging from the shadows. It is a combination of the two elements that makes Massive Attack’s 3rd (and, lets face it, last) consecutive stunner whole.
Pacing is everything on Mezzanine
, Massive Attack are in no hurry and they wring out every last idea present. “Angel” opens the album with over a full minute of thick bass pulse that sets the tone for the entire album without saying a single word. “Dissolved Girl” deploys a heavily narcotized Sara Jay and just a relentless build until it boils over in a hail of gunfire before boxing itself up again. The ethereal beauty of “Teardrop” is twisted into “Black Milk”, which sounds like the flaming fragments of “Teardrop” slipping beneath the oily waves.
Robert Del Naja (Or “3D”) has always been underrated as a rapper, often chided on lyrics but superb at something much more interesting, sensuality. Del Naja’s enticing slither of a voice sounds like Satan delivering original sin into Eve’s ear. “Toy like people make me boy like” he vocalizes like calligraphy ink sliding down a clean sheet of paper. The lyrics don’t make sense but that’s because they can’t make sense, you’re not supposed to have stable footing here. Rapping in a collection of non-sequiturs on “Inertia Creeps”, “Mezzanine”, and “Risingson” feel like stumbling through a packed dance floor, high out of your mind and unable to shake the feeling you’re being followed as bits of conversations worm through the haze.
Tracks from Mezzanine
have been sound tracking films ever since it came out, with it’s fully realized atmosphere directors have been looking to Mezzanine
to provide their films with that deep, dark cool that just drips from this record. Simply put, Mezzanine
is one of the most cinematic albums ever created. “Risingson” deploys an incredible synth coda that rips through the last half of the track like a virus sweeping through a nightclub’s ventilation system. “Teardrop” – which is impossible to play in any company without someone reminding me that it’s the theme song to House – gracefully rises above the smog on light harpsichord and Elizabeth Fraser’s wondrous voice.
Mezzanine only falters in its decision to contain two versions of the hotel lobby interlude “Exchange” and 8-minute finale “Group Four”. For some reason, the fellas decided to make the initial instrumental longer than the version that closes the album that features Andy Horace. At 4 minutes it deadens the albums momentum and would have benefited greatly from having its running time chopped in half. “Group Four” has a promising first half with Del Naja and Elizabeth Fraser trading off vagaries, but it promises a payoff that never comes with the second half doodling around on a few power chords until the song limps to a close.
usefulness depends on one element. Can you see the sun? If so, it’s basically useless. These songs are meant for menacing subway rides, glaring at strangers for no reason, and checking over your shoulder on your own block all because of darkness. Each tune feels like slowly slipping on a pair of dark leather gloves. Equal parts beguiling and repulsive, Mezzanine
lies in wait to soundtrack your next waking nocturnal nightmare.