Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/15/09.
After the huge acclaim and success for 1998's Mezzanine, things were going great for the group Massive Attack in terms of what they have done for electronic music. Unfortunately, problems were emerging inside of the band as longtime member Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles decided to leave the group of 1999 after being disenchanted with the band's direction. Remaining founding members Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant "Daddy G" Marshall continued to forge ahead with the group yet new problems would emerge in the years to come. After a hiatus in late 1999 through 2000, the group returned to the studio with 3D working with Mezzanine producer Neil Davidge on several tracks. Daddy G however, was unable to be inspired by what 3D and Davidge are doing as he chose to leave the band temporarily to focus on family. In 2003, 3D and Davidge returned as Massive Attack for their fourth studio release entitled 100th Window.
Produced by 3D and Neil Davidge, 100th Window is a darker, broader, and more eerie album than previous recordings. The first record to not feature samples or cover songs, it's an album that moves farther away from the defining trip-hop sound that Massive Attack had famously created. While the record does feature longtime associate Horace Andy on a couple of vocal tracks, the group employed Sinead O'Connor for three songs that she co-wrote with 3D and Davidge. Along with Blur's Damon Albarn as Gorillaz vocalist 2D, 100th Window is a haunting yet soothing album from 3D and Davidge though doesn't live up to the brilliance of the Massive Attack name or its previous albums.
The album opener Future Proof arrives with bleeping synthesizer melodies and melodic guitar flourishes that is later accompanied by swift, sputtering beats. With a groove-laden bass line and 3D's raspy vocals, it's an atmospheric, soothing song that sets the tone for what is to come for the album. Even as it features layered sound textures in the keyboards and production to give it a creepy tone. What Your Soul Sings, with Sinead O'Connor, is an eerie ballad of sorts with melodic guitars, swirling synthesizer textures, and scratchy, hollow beats that includes a slow, heavy bass line. O'Connor's ethereal, angelic vocals with its dreamy lyrics is the highlight of the song as it's one of the album's best cuts. Everywhen, that features Horace Andy on vocals, is a dreamy, esoteric song with soothing keyboards, washy guitars, bass-throbbing rhythms, and Andy's reggae-nasally vocals. With some slow, scratchy guitars, the rhythms pick up a bit though it's a track that doesn't reach great heights.
Special Cases arrives with tingling, hollow percussion scratches and ominous synthesizer swoons that is accompanied by a slow yet eerie bass line. With O'Connor's soothing vocals leading the way, it is accompanied by eerie keyboard arrangements that sound like strings. It's another track that plays up to the dark tone of the album as it features heavy string-like synthesizers to play up to the track's atmosphere. Butterfly Caught features a trance-like synthesizer drone with thumping, rhythmic beats, bouncy bass grooves, and 3D's cool, raspy vocal. With Eastern-style violins and droning synthesizer shimmers, it's a track that really stands out for its production and ominous tone. Prayer For England arrive with droning, shimmering bass lines and sputtering, tap-like beats that all accompany Sinead O'Connor's somber, dreamy vocals. With its ominous production and presentation accompanying O'Connor, it's a song that features excellent arrangements in the synthesizers and beats.
Small Time Shot Away arrives with a dreamy, swooning synthesizer swirl that is followed by soft, hollow percussion tingles. With a bass-heavy groove, the beats start to arrive through a swirling production as it plays through a smooth, mid-tempo presentation with 3D's raspy vocals. While it's an excellent track, it does feel a bit long as its presentation goes a little far while Gorillaz vocalist 2D provides some backing vocals to accompany 3D. Name Taken is a somber track with swirling guitars and synthesizers as it is followed by soft, tingling beats and slow bass grooves. With Horace Andy's soothing, high-pitch vocal style and a shimmering keyboard track. It's a cut that plays ominous through its production but doesn't have much going for in terms of ambition despite a unique presentation.
The album closer Antistar arrives with a warbling guitar riff that plays to a throbbing, bouncy rhythm. With soft, tapping rhythms and ominous synthesizers, 3D sings the song with its creepy vocals as it maintains a dark presentation that includes melodic-swirling synthesizers and electronic textures in the string arrangements. Serving as a bonus track on some editions of the album is an eleven-minute instrumental called LP4. Featuring a fast, shimmering synthesizer drones, it's a track that's really more of an experimental idea than an actual track which doesn't really go anywhere.
Released in February of 2003 to high anticipation, the record initially divided fans and critics over its sound. With some liking the soundscapes that 3D and Neil Davidge created, others felt that it was merely an attempt to recreate the dark sound of Mezzanine. Though it managed to be somewhat successful commercially, things weren't looking so well for Massive Attack. 3D for a while was suspected of child porn allegations which he was acquitted while a tour to promote the new album went through some financial troubles. While Daddy G did some occasional appearances, it was clear that Massive Attack's days were behind them. 3D and Davidge decided to work on soundtrack projects under a different name with the exception of the soundtrack to Danny the Dog under the Massive Attack name.
In 2005, Daddy G returned to the fold full-time though he decided to work with other people to develop tracks. In 2006, a best-of compilation called Collected featuring a new song called Live With Me was released to great acclaim with a second disc of material featuring non-LP tracks and other unreleased material. A tour to promote the compilation was successful as both 3D and Daddy G decided to start work on a new album slated for a 2010 release.
While 100th Window doesn't live up to the brilliance of its predecessors, it's still an excellent album from Massive Attack. Though it might not be a true Massive Attack record in name or theory, it does have the sound collages and textures that are reminiscent of past albums. While it features some great vocal work from Sinead O'Connor, it's a record that doesn't win anyone over at first listen. Yet, it's still a fascinating album from Robert del Naja and Neil Davidge that is somewhat worthy of the Massive Attack name.
(C) thevoid99 2011