Massive Attack Trades Beats for Sleep
After 2003’s 100th Window [Virgin] was derided by many critics as an exercise in treading water, suggesting Massive Attack should shift gears and distance themselves from their trademark gloomy trip-hop,
it looks like the Bristol ensemble took notice.
Be careful what you wish for.
Although they each have their moments, the band's first two albums—Blue Lines [Virgin-1991], Protection [Virgin-1994]—never impressed us much. They were competent but, ultimately, forgettable representative artifacts of their time that would’ve left the band as mere ‘90s nu-soul footnotes had they not released the groundbreaking,
and highly influential trip-hop masterpiece Mezzanine [Virgin-1998].
Five years later, amidst continued personnel upheavals, 100th Window was lukewarmly received despite bearing such gems as the Sinead O’Connor-sung “What Your Soul Sings,” a triumph for both the Irish vocalist and the band. "Stop repeating yourself", detractors said.
And it seems like they listened. Unfortunately.
We're not advocates of artists making the same record again and again, but we certainly don't favor changing course for the hell of it, without some sort of artistic impetus as the catalyst. In any event,
it's hard to tell whether Massive Attack succumbed to outside pressure, were influenced by their recent soundtrack work, finally felt it was time for a change, or all of the above.
Regardless, there’s not much of their most recognizable latter-day sonic traits on Heligoland, except for the gloominess that has permeated their best music. Unfortunately, the depth their dark trip-hop gave that bleak sound is for the most part unaccounted for here.
And the likes of mainstay vocalist Horace Andy, along with TV on the Radio's Tunde Adibempe, Damon Albarn, Guy Garvey (Elbow),
and Hope Sandoval, try their damndest to make up for what is essentially serviceable contemporary soundtrack music; in effect,
an updated version of their skilled but not terribly interesting early work.
Highlights: “Babel”, “Paradise Circus”, “Rush Minute”, “Saturday Come Slow”.