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Massive Attack
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  • Protection,
  • Mezzanine,
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  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    Massive Attack

    Blue Lines 9 ( 1991 )
    Safe From Harm / One Love / Blue Lines / Be Thankful For What You've Got / Five Man Army / Unfinished Sympathy / Daydreaming / Lately / Hymn Of The Big Wheel

    In their own words 'Dark Side Of The Moon' by Pink Floyd "is hip-hop, repetitive loops and simple melodies" - so you can see their definition of hip-hop is wider than might be usual. Hailing from Bristol, where Reggae battled with Punk, rather than joined with punk, aka The Clash or The Slits - segregation and racial tension. All this is going back in time. Another factor, at least in the success of Massive Attack was the HUGE commercial success of a group called Soul To Soul. Soul To Soul were everywhere for a couple of years with their rap, mellow coffee table Hip Hop and polite upper class Sunday Newspaper grooves. Massive Attack came defiantly from left-field, yet with a clutch of brilliant singles, enlivened a tepid and quite frankly dull UK singles charts and music scene no end. They'd never have got daytime radio play if not for Soul To Soul, so we can be thankful to them for one thing, at least. Oh, and 'Back To Life' was good, I guess.....

    Sara Nelson should have gone onto have a huge solo career following her vocal contributions here, but it never quite panned out. The five minute, eighteen second long funky bass groove of 'Safe From Harm' hit the singles charts, rap spots - but really, the vocals of Sara Nelson largely responsible. Beautifully framed within and above the grooves, haunting, sexual, scary, beautiful - everything you could ask for. A fantastic, stellar vocal that completely makes the song. 'One Love' features Reggae singer Horace Andy, another impeccable voice amid perfectly constructed grooves - RELAXATION, yet not mellow for a single second. Does that make sense? I hope so. It's drifting off blissfully, yet fully aware of everything around you, your mind buzzing - rather than just being bored to tears, aka 'Soul 2 Soul', aka most music of this kind prior to Massive Attack. Of this kind? Well, obviously, that's not a given. They did something different, just by SOUNDING a little different, real and slightly dangerously spooky. A melancholy. The title track is hip hop and soul groove, an instrumental piece bar a cool rap that appears down in the mix, and running throughout. Worth listening to. 'Be Thankful For What You've Got' is a certified WONDER! The vocals here are by a Mr Tony Bryan, whom I shamefully admit to knowing absolutely nothing about - but this is a vocal of sheer gold, with music to match. With rappers and hip-hop stars posing, stressing their masculinity - Tony Bryan turned in a sensual and feminine vocal that is striking and brilliant - worth the price of admission alone - let alone the fabulous groove and flow of the music. Good stuff, indeed!

    'Five Man Army' is all hip-hop groove, but this is an album that flows well. Each song works in the context of the album and appears in the correct place. 'Unfinished Sympathy' is next. Um..... Sara Nelson...... Um..... the rattle and blissful groove, a piece of musical genius that sounds groundbreaking over ten years later. Really, we've not progressed beyond this. Hip Hop and Soul ten years later struggles to sound anywhere as fresh as this. This is truly timeless music and one of the finest songs of the Nineties. The sadness never far away, yet this isn't pessimism. This isn't without hope, it fills you with life. The album continues to be brilliant, especially with the climax of 'Hymn Of The Big Wheel', which defies description. 'Daydreaming' is an expertly constructed groove, by the way. 'Lately' drifts by, but Sara Nelson sings, so all is well. 'Blue Lines'? A classic of its kind - of any kind.

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    Readers Comments

    Jonathan Roseveare jrr1@ukc.ac.uk
    Well where do I start? What an album and definitely one of the most groundbreaking albums ever moulding hip hop, reggae, soul and dub-in fact it created a whole new genre! Yet the wonderful thing about this album is that it really really grows on you. The obvious classics here are the singles especially Daydreaming which showcases Tricky's awesome lyrical skills, but if anything the real hip hop tracks Blue Lines and Five Man Army are underrated and are just as good as the other tracks. In fact these tracks GOT me into hip hop and made me start appreciating rapping and how lyrics can so imaginative, funny, powerful. There's hardly a line wasted: favourite line? In Blue Lines- 3D "but you're living on a see-saw" Tricky "i try to see more" Just brilliant. A lyrical bombshell.

    Lorenzo lawrencekelly@supanet.com
    Just a note about 'be thankful for what you've got'. Yes it's a well done cover, but it's a straight a cover version as you can get, to the point of using the intro of the original as a sample and looping it. The only original parts added are backing vocals. Check William DeVaughan on the original, not that it's any better, but merely that it's near identicle, just 15 years or so earlier. It puts them it a rather odd light.

    Hairy Chris Ihavenopantson@warpmail.net
    Thank fuck someone finally gave Blue Lines the best rating. But it's Shara not Sara, and matey is right, Blue Lines (the Title track) is amazing. No more hip-hop reviews for you chief. You are a bit rubbish at them.

    john, county kildare, ireland john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    isn't "empty cans" by the streets, an awful lot like "hymn of the big wheel"? not that i'm one for engaging in mike skinner bashing, quite the opposite in fact, but you can hear an istantly identifiable wind, blowing through mike's composition, that traces itself right back to this album, even when taking the sample ridden nature of modern music into account. this is really the first "dance" music album i took seriously, way back when, with its highly sophisticated rhythms, wonderfully evocative use of strings, and the eclectic range of vocals, deployed on the songs, each one as innovative as the next. hard to really pick a highlight, as every single tune glows with quality, and originality. a truly cutting edge album, and sounding more fresher than ever. 10/10.

    Dan justto_haveone@hotmail.com
    At least I agree that Massive Attack's popular album is no worse than their others, and includes everything just fresh and classic. This record expertly explores music and genre in the most optimal way: I'll give it the maximum rating any time.


    top of page Protection 7 ( 1994 )
    Protection / Karmacoma / Three / Weather Storm / Spying Glass / Better Things / Eurochild / Sly / Heat Miser / Light My Fire (live)

    Sara Nelson leaves for a solo career that never took off, and her voice is missed. Not that Tracey Thorn does a bad job on the title song, she doesn't. She does a fine job, so much so this track relaunched the career of her regular band Everything But The Girl in spectacular fashion. Other guest vocalists this time out include Nicolette who does 'a turn' on the gorgeous 'Three'. Tracy pops up again for 'Better Things' and then, apart from the instrumentals of course, it's a variety of familiar Massive Attack names including regulars Tricky, 3d and Horace Andy. Overall we've got a situation where Massive Attack include a few tunes hinting at new directions without actually being new directions. Hence the metallic clang of 'Karmacoma' over which 3d and tricky do unremarkable rap spots, but the music holds you captivated anyway. 'Weather Storm' is no kind of direction at all, actually. Just an excuse for special guest and sometimes film composer Craig Armstrong to play some very pretty Piano for five minutes whilst Massive Attack create laidback beats behind him. As I said, very pretty. Very nice, but it's a fault of this 'Protection' album that sometimes it's too laidback, too tasteful for its own good. If the closing cover of The Doors 'Light My Fire' - a song which nobody should cover ever again and add to the already existing 12,999,984 number of covers - was an attempt at throwing something at the few Rock fans that had picked up on Massive Attack then it was surely a misplaced move. It's not that 'Light My Fire' is performed badly. Oh, not that. This hop-hop version with added reggae vocals has been 'done' perfectly well for what the band were ( I assume ) trying to acheive. Just that it's no album closer, doesn't fit with the rest of the album AT ALL, and has no business being here.

    Metallic tones open 'Spying Glass' which sounds fantastic from start to finish. A big fat bass line runs throughout and whilst dancehall continues to ruin modern reggae with its overwhelming popularity within those circles, this tune right here - a 21st century cool sophisticated update of 70s Dub reggae - should really be the way to go. The soulful vocals of Nicolette are a highlight of 'Three' and many things are a highlight of 'Three'. Easily as good as the best of 'Blue Lines' and the music has a texture and depth advanced from 'Blue Lines'. Craig Armstrong pops up again to add his ambient Piano feel to the instrumental 'Heat Miser' and it's not a great thing at all. Very dull, very pointless noodling for three and a half minutes. Craig Armstrong also pops up on 'Sly', although Nicolette pops up on 'Sly' as well, so this particular smooth tasteful piece is worth listening to. As for the album overall? Well, it's patchy. It's a sophomore slump, if you will. These things happen, but the best songs here are certainly worthy.

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    Readers Comments

    john, county kildare, ireland john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    "protection" overdoses on a smug sense of sophistication, no doubt, a mindset that slightly tainted the band, after their spectacular debut. one gets the feeling of a "coffee shop" ambience, that also marred the latter work of the style council, and while the debut had a vital self assurance, you get the feeling, that maybe there's more than a hint of "like whatever" brewing here. of course, the songs per se deserve more than simply being viewed as vessels of a rather condescending, mid 1990s social lethargy, and post modern smugness. the title track is beyond the description of mere words, an undisputed masterpiece, that even an idiot couldn't fail to recognise. a classic of the "solitude is beauty" belief, that has given us so many moments of staggering beauty, ever since art "began". although the instrumental tracks, are perhaps a source of criticism, in relation to the vibe of smugness, they cannot be overlooked, and add the albums more endearing charms, weaving in and o! ut of tracey thorn's wistful lyrical observations. not the masterpiece of the debut, but certainly a sincere, if slightly arrogant follow up. in other words, "yours is no disgrace". 8/10.

    GAZZA garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Accusations of "coffee table" muzak were chucked at MA after the yuppies bought this one by the bucket load - very harsh . I think its a beautiful album album , you can lose yourself in its mellow drift endlessly. Theres more of a jazz element here too . The sound is wonderful , the temple bells and trickys rap on karmacoma , the spiralling dub of "spying glass" and the stunning arrangement and almost oriental vocals of nicolette on the awesome "sly" are all highpoints in the Massive attack catalogue. Calling it "coffee table muzak" or "dinner part music" is highly insulting . This is well crafted,intelligent beautiful music - hallmarks of massive attack in general.


    top of page Mezzanine 8 ( 1998 )
    Angel / Risingson / Teardrop / Inertia Creeps / Exchange / Dissolved Girl / Man Next Door / Black Milk / Mezzanine / Group Four Exchange

    Massive Attack vanish for several years, but you've got to say that it was worth doing so based on the first three songs here, at least. This is fantastic stuff - they've not so much reinvented themselves has undergone a process of evolution. We didn't get to hear the stuff 'inbetween' this and 'Protection', works in progress, ideas being thrown around. We got to hear this, a fully fledged and FINISHED product. Product isn't the correct word to use, you don't get the sense, "oh, here's the latest album to sell and make money from" - not at all. Still, let's talk about this thing. Just over an hour long and featuring eleven songs all four/five/six minutes long each. The opening 'Angel' is six and a half minutes long and it's a striking six and a half minutes. A low bass throbs in the background, a truly soulful feminine male lead vocal comes in before the slashing guitars spiral and draw shapes over the surface of the backing track. 'Angel' actually ROCKS! But, it's got soul, a fantastic lead vocal actually. Ominous lyrics, ominous bass line. Truly a great opening track, and easily the most striking thing Massive Attack had been responsible for since 'Unfinished Sympathy', way back when. 'Risingson' continues with the use of low, low bass sounds, adding metallic 'sheets of steel' sounds for good measure. The rap here is a fantastic rap part, sitting right in the middle of this wall of textured machinery and melody. Then of course, we get Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins adding her ethereal voice to the lonesome sounding 'Teardrop', as the songs title might suggest, yeah, lonesome and sad, yet utterly beautiful. Hearing her sing her usual 'what language is this?' lovely baby-speak lyrics over a truly modern and fascinating backing track is one of the highlights of the entire Electronica genre, for me.

    'Inertia Creeps' shares metallic sounds of other songs here and a vocal so up-close and sinister you'll glance around your shoulder in a fit of paranoia. Suddenly it becomes amazingly clear, if it wasn't already from the opening three tracks how well produced, mixed and recorded this entire album really is. Five years on, nobody within this particular field of music has created an album that just sounds as great as this album does, and that's ignoring all the songs, the vocals and the melodies! The production makes 'Inertia Creeps' entirely actually, it's not really terribly interesting as a song - doesn't develop and just washes over you for six minutes. Following a moody ( rather dull ) instrumental, and the 'Mezzanine' by numbers guitars and metallic sounds of the not quite developed in terms of song structure 'Dissolved Girl', arrives a great vocal for 'Man Next Door' thanks to Mr Horace Andy. 'Black Milk' boasts a really light, off in the heavens soulful female lead and the bass line is hypnotic and works to hold the music together. That's pretty much it.... well, I don't care much at all for the songs either side of the eight minute long 'Group Four' and I care for that because Liz Fraser adds her angelic swooning voice to the track. Still, 'Mezzanine' is a damn solid album, striking and soulful. It doesn't entirely keep up the high standards of the best songs here throughout, it dips a little in places, but overall, yeah. A comeback.

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    Readers Comments

    Jacek Losiak jlosiak@reja.com.pl
    I must disagree with you on this one, I think Mezzanine is Massive Attack's best album. I didn't like it that much on my first listen and actually thought it was just decent, but time proved me wrong and now I am very fond of it. And you are right, it is inconsistent. But from my experience many atmospheric masterpieces like Dark Side of the Moon or OK Computer are like this, only nobody minds, because production and the overall mood make you overlook any songwriting slips. The only real complaint I have is that they put this Exchange song in the middle, where it really disrupts the flow of the record. But other than that it's excellent.

    john, county kildare, ireland john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    a return to form, as the cliche goes. took bloody ages, but worth waiting for......... 9.5/10.

    David Melia david_melia@entemp.ie
    Mezzanine is Massive Attack best work to date. Took a long time to grow on me, but now i would recommend it to anyone. Brillant

    AnEagleInYourMind aneagleinyourmind@gmail.com
    Great review, but you give it only an 8, and Blue Lines a 9? I guess I'd give Mezzanine a 9.5 just because of personal preference, but I find it to be the best trip-hop album I have ever heard (yes, even better than Portishead's Dummy).

    GAZZA garyhess44@hotmail.com
    What a stunningly intense album . Like a stoned fusion of the cocteaus,can and lee perry with a bit of post punk thrown in too (check out the guitars) Its undoubtably one of the best "sounding" records of the 90s - incredible production especially the drum tracks which are so well recorded,processed and distorted .The vibrations rattle your teeth and change the air around you .I think this is massive attacks best album especially with the throbbing "angel" the paranoid dub of "risingson" and the incredible fragile beauty of "black milk" and "teardrop" which are so hypnotic and trance like . Its really shouldnt be talked about track by track , mezzanine is about the overall experience and it all works so well . And its not a bad seduction album either ;) - I find theres a pecuiliar dark sexiness to the record thats very appealing to the opposite sex !!


    top of page 100th Window( 2003 )
    Future Proof / What Your Soul Sings / Everywhen / Special Cases / Butterly Caught / Prayer For England / Smalltime Shot Away / Name Take / Antistar

    Two mainstays of the band leave in the intermission between this and 'Mezzanine' and the result isn't so much a Massive Attack album as one guy working with a producer, writing all the songs with said producer and calling himself Massive Attack, because the name means something. Of course, we all hope the music contained on this album is worthy of the name.... Mostly it is, mostly we're doing pretty fine. I'm not so sure about the vocals on some of the songs, and the opening 'Future Proof' is a pale shadow of a 'Mezzanine' track... Still! Irish singer who cries, Sinead O'Connor, sings on a few songs, and she does well. First song here she adds her voice to is 'What Your Soul Sings' which is all nice mellow electronica beats with her distinctive voice sitting quite pretty over the top. This isn't groundbreaking or stunning, but it's nice listening. 'Prayer For England' sounds very Sinead O'Connor vocally, lyrically and the beats are strong and an atmosphere is created and held - this works, absolutely. The closing 'Antistar' is a cinematic instrumental piece for the most part. Pretty dull, nothing we haven't heard before, but that's not important. It doesn't actually DO anything. It's a soundscape without a purpose.

    The first single taken from the album, 'Special Cases', benefits firstly from a Sinead O'Connor vocal, and secondly benefits from having a captivating structure and a dark spooky atmospheric sound. 'Butterfly Caught' is over seven minutes of low semi-sung, semi-spoken vocals, pretty standard basic beats and a pale shadow of the better 'Mezzanine' material, but it does hold you, just about. There's a hypnotism in the repetitive beats that holds you. 'Smalltime Shot Away' has soft, so soft they're hardly there vocals, but the music works around the weak vocals, and it's listenable and can be considered a success. Not a unqualified success, mind you. '100th Window' isn't an unqualified success, it's almost certainly the worst album proper that 'Massive Attack' have ever put out, but... it still sounds like a Massive Attack album, genuinely so. It doesn't sound like a solo project, which it basically is... so. Don't know what else to add, really. If you dig the band, you'll dig this, but I'm not convinced that anybody anywhere, fan or not, will claim this as a highpoint of the bands career. <

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    tristan senyct01@tartarus.uwa.edu.au
    100th Window isn't terribly groundbreaking in comparison with previous releases, however it is texturally more interesting than most of mezzanine and you can further immerse yourself into the sprawling soundscapes than any record previous. I fear, Massive Attack will never be as good as Boards of Canada or Portishead at programming, so critics might as well accept that this is a very good attempt at a bar set too high. ~7.5/10

    GAZZA
    I agree adrian , its a terrible dissapointment . The oconnor sang tracks are decent, small time shot aways not bad and butterfly caught has some nice asian stle violin throughout. But god its a dreary and uninvolving listen . The collaborations with albarn and mos def didnt make the record either - they must have been awful . Lets hope the new album planned for later this year is a return to form.


    top of page Heligoland 7 ( 2010 )
    Pray for Rain / Babel / Splitting the Atom / Girl I Love You / Psyche / Flat of the Blade / Paradise Circus / Rush Minute / Saturday Come Slow / Atlas Air

    Massive Attack’s fifth studio album arrives a long seven years after its predecessor. The usual array of guest stars contribute, including Damon Albarn, Horace Andy and a lovely spot by Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. The final ten songs on the finished product were the result of many disparate sessions and there are apparently numerous tracks that either didn't make it to the final cut or were, for whatever reason, unfinished. The result of all this is to render 'Heliogland' a somewhat fractured listen overall - it just doesn't flow like the Massive Attack albums of the past. The atmosphere varies which in itself isn't a bad thing but 'Heliogland' just doesn't quite seem to know its place or purpose. Who exactly are Massive Attack 'for' these days?

    For the record, 'Heliogland' is an album really only for the first four tracks, the remainder not hanging together and the transitions from song to song more random the longer the album progresses. I've been listening to the album on rotation this morning and five listens in, the whole still makes no sense. It works better in modern MP3/Digital mode, stuck on random. That way, highlights such as 'Paradise Circus' sung by Hope Sandoval come through. The album lacks any new sounds and could have been made at any stage since 1995 or so. Only the Horace Andy sung 'Girl I Love You' seems to bring through something new. Partly it's his vocal which lacks the cartoon darkness of many of the other guest vocalists. He brings some much needed lightness. Damon Albarn's turn on 'Saturday Come Slow' for example is just tired as he wearily ignores the backing track and sings without connecting at all to what's going on around him. Well, the production works to make the track serviceable but I can't help thinking a more eccentric vocalist wouldn't have worked better here?

    Overall, 'Heliogland' isn't a bad album and it's arguably better than '200th Window' but all it does it restore some of Massive Attack's artistic reputation. There's nothing surprising or startling here, nothing overly enticing to newcomers. Old fans will love it and some declare it a return to form, and in a way it is. A return of sorts, at least.

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    top of page this page last updated 13/03/10


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