Review Summary: Less an album than it is a drug, in the best possible way.
Every so often, an album seems to come along that transcends the boundaries of genres, scenes, and subcultures, creating a shockwave that ripples throughout the entire world of pop culture. Some of these albums ---- such as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Queen’s A Night at the Opera --- are well known amongst music aficionados and casual listeners alike. But others meet with a more subtle reception, only gradually growing to claim their place in the canon of essential modern music. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine is just such an album, leaving behind the conventions of the late 90’s trip-hop scene that birthed the act and giving itself over to sweeping soundscapes and near-flawless songwriting.
Like the work of the Deftones, Massive Attack’s music is as much a matter of atmosphere as of raw musical prowess. The first track on Mezzanine, Angel, instantly calls up images of a decaying metropolis after nightfall, the vitality of the city reduced to an eerie urban pulse. As the song develops, it descends into a wall of industrial noise that recalls Nine Inch Nails at their most powerful, before fading back to lead into the opening beats of the next track. The flow of the album continues perfectly from there, as listeners are treated to the haunting and stark hip-hop rhymes of Risingson and the delicate soundscapes of Teardrop.
The third song on the album is nothing short of a work of art. Teardrop opens with a simple, ghostly heartbeat rhythm, with the instrumental melody gradually fading in to weave a blanket of sound for the listener’s ears. When the soft and unrelentingly pretty female vocals come in, the atmosphere almost becomes trance-like, lulling the listener out of reality and into the auditory equivalent of a dream. Like a blissful vision, the song is almost difficult to bring oneself out of.
The album continues with the unfettered excellence, returning to melody-less hip hop rhymes and beats for Inertia Creeps, toying further with ambient soundscapes in Exchange, and using more traditional song structures and another female lead vocal in another highlight, Dissolved Girl. By the album’s final few tracks, the listener is most likely completely under its spell, lost in the musical atmosphere and living in a sort of altered consciousness. Mezzanine does not need a genre, because it creates a world completely its own --- while lost in a song like Teardrop or Dissolved Girl, it’s easy to forget that any other music has ever been made.
And therein lies the key to the album’s importance. It is only rarely this easy to become so completely lost in an album --- the world Mezzanine creates is just as much a place as a soundtrack, and it isn’t a place that is easy to escape. Luckily, I don’t see why any listener would want to.