Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/6/09.
After the release of 1991's Blue Lines, the group Massive Attack that consists of rappers/producers 3D and Daddy G plus producer/keyboardist Mushroom, had created a brand new blend of hip-hop, jazz, dub, and electronic music that was later known as trip-hop. Featuring contributions from fellow Bristol artist Tricky who was forging his own solo career in the same sub genre. The group was getting massive acclaim as well as success in Britain at a time when a new wave of electronic music and British indie music was starting to gain ground. Though success in America was minimal despite a minor modern rock/dance hit with Safe From Harm, Massive Attack was ready to go to work on their second record.
Unfortunately, things didn't start out easy as a falling with Shara Nelson over royalty disputes and her desire for a solo career happened while the group's manager decided to leave forcing the band to find a new one. It was also around the same time the band decided to get some additional help from one of their old comrades from the Wild Bunch collective team in producer Nellee Hooper. Along with contributions from collaborators like Tricky, Horace Andy, and a new female vocalist named Nicolette Suwoton. The group got help from the British alternative act Everything but the Girl who had just scored a major hit with a remix of the song Missing by Todd Terry. With Everything but the Girl vocalist Tracey Thorn deciding to be another vocalist for the record entitled Protection.
Produced by Massive Attack and Nellee Hooper, Protection is a record in which the band decided to take the sound of Blue Lines for something more laid-back and less electronic. With the use of live instruments, real string orchestra and arrangements plus contributions from pianist Craig Armstrong. The record is more atmospheric while the experimentation of Blue Lines is still there as its mesh of dub, hip-hop, soul, and electronic music are taken to a more grounded yet esoteric sound that is mesmerizing and as the group describe it, something to chill out to. Though may not have the consistency or adventurous approach of Blue Lines, Protection is still a strong, intoxicating album from Massive Attack.
The album opens with its title track, a somber, mid-tempo ballad with funk-laden, washy guitar riffs, swooning keyboards, and a smooth, bouncy beat. Then comes Tracey Thorn's evocative vocals filled with melancholic lyrics as it carries the song setting the tone for the album. With Nellee Hooper's atmospheric production and melodic-swooning keyboards, and a heavy piano melody as it is a song that is truly one of the group's career highlights. Karmacoma with Tricky on vocals is a dub-inspired song with reggae-inspired melodies, throbbing beats, and bass grooves as Tricky raps in a cool, raspy vocal style. With it eerie production of winds and dub-inspired soundscapes, it's a track that is a laid-back yet dark cut that proves that the band is still experimental and as daring as they were in their first album.
Three is a hypnotic track featuring the sensual, nasally-vocals of Nicolette Suwoton as she brings an entrancing vocal style to the song's groove-laden sound of bass, melodic synthesizer flourishes, and soft, hi-hat beats. With Suwoton's vocals filled with eerie lyrics, the song is a trance-like feel as the group delves into a dark yet laid-back sound. Weather Storm is a slow yet groove-laden instrumental track with swooning bass lines, Craig Armstrong's jazz-inspired piano melodies, and soft, throbbing beats. Armstrong's flourishing piano is the highlight of the track as it is an instrumental that really encompass the sound of trip-hop in its relation to jazz without delving into a bland sound. Spying Glass is a reggae-inspired track with dub-style bass lines, thumping bass beats, and hollow, metallic beats. With Horace Andy's wailing, reggae-inspired vocals, it's a dark, creepy track with lyrics that plays up to the song's atmospheric tone as it features a nice bass groove and swanky guitars to play up to the album's reggae-inspired presentation.
Better Things is a mid-tempo track with a bouncy, jazz-inspired bass, washy guitar riffs, and soft, tap-like breaking beat samples from a James Brown track. With Tracey Thorn's soulful, evocative vocal, it's a song that plays up to a jazz groove with Thorn providing some somber, hopeful lyrics that features Thorn's vocals as the song's highlight along with its smooth, jazz groove. Eurochild is a throbbing, mid-tempo track with flourishing synthesizers, swooning bass grooves, thumping beats, and fast-paced raps from Tricky, Daddy G, and 3D. With a wavy synthesizer solo that plays through the song, it's the trading verses of the raspy Tricky and the baritone-vocal style of Daddy G that provides the raps with 3D doing a brief rap in the last verse with his raspy vocals. Sly is a chilling, eerie track led by Nicolette Suwoton's hypnotic vocals with a smooth bass groove, swooning keyboards, and slow, tribal-like beats. With a string arrangement accompanying Suwoton's vocals, it's a song that features Nellee Hooper's entrancing, layered production as he provides a great mix of warbling electronics, enchanting string arrangements, and Suwoton's haunting vocals.
Heat Miser is an instrumental piece opens with a melodic piano flourish and thumping, tap-like beats that are followed by louder snare-like beats. With Craig Armstrong's flourishing piano tracks and a momentum-building synthesizer track as it features a string arrangement that plays up to the track's intensity. The album closer is a cover of the Doors' Light My Fire performed live. With Horace Andy on vocals, the song is given a loud, thumping beat and reggae-inspired keyboards as it's an interesting cover though one of the most bizarre interpretations of a classic from the Doors.
Released in September of 1994 with high anticipation, the album received excellent notices though didn't match up the acclaim of Blue Lines. While the album did get Massive Attack some great attention in the U.S., the record also was a hit in the U.K. at a time when the trip-hop sub genre was starting to come into fruition. A month earlier, former Massive Attack associate Geoff Barrows and his new group Portishead released their landmark debut album Dummy to massive acclaim. Tricky meanwhile, decided to end his partnership with Massive Attack for a solo career where in February of 1995, he releases Maxinquaye to great acclaim. Around the same time, British dub producer Mad Professor did an entire remix of Protection entitled No Protection to great acclaim.
The success of Protection, Massive Attack were in demand to do remixes and collaborations including another song with Tracey Thorn for the Batman Forever soundtrack while Madonna asked them to collaborate with her on a cover of Marvin Gaye's I Want You for a Marvin Gaye tribute album. It was becoming a demanding time for the group as they were working on other projects while they were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the trip-hop sound the group had created early in the decade as the electronic music scene was moving at a rapid pace.
While it may not have the groundbreaking soundscapes or ambition of Blue Lines, Protection is still a fascinating, laid-back album from Massive Attack. Fans of Massive Attack will no doubt, find this record essential thanks to the famed title track as well as several cuts that are considered classics of the trip-hop sub genre. The record itself does play like a nice record to chill out to at night while making it a nice soundtrack for something to play while coming home after a party. In the end, for something that plays it cool at a late night. Protection is the record to get from Massive Attack.
(C) thevoid99 2011