Monday, May 30, 2011

Massive Attack-Heligoland

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/21/10.

Since their arrival to the music scene in 1991 with the landmark debut album Blue Lines, Massive Attack brought a new sound to the world of electronic music known as trip-hop.  Immediately, this new sound captivated Britain as in the next few years.  Massive Attack along with fellow Bristol acts like Tricky and Portishead would release recordings that definitely broadened the trip-hop sound.  Two more successive albums in 1994's Protection and 1998's Mezzanine would continue the group's acclaim with critics and audiences.  Yet, Mezzanine would mark a new direction for the group that would lead to the departure of one of its members in Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles.

Vowles' departure would definitely impact the rest of the group that consisted of Robert "3D" del Naja and Grantley "Daddy G" Marshall.  Following a tour to support the album as well as some recording sessions in 2000, things between del Naja and Marshall weren't very good as Marshall temporarily left the band.  Robert del Naja along with associate Neil Davidge worked on the fourth Massive Attack album entitled 100th Window that was released in early 2003 to mixed reviews.  Marshall returned to the fold a year later as the group worked on various projects including soundtrack material.  In 2006, a best of collection was released called Collected that featured a new song called Live With Me.

In 2007 with del Naja and Davidge working on various soundtrack albums while Marshall also worked on other projects.  Finally, del Naja and Marshall went to work on the fifth Massive Attack album by bringing in various guest vocalists including longtime collaborator Horace Andy.  Among the people the band worked with were Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star fame, Stephanie Dosen, Dot Allison, Mike Patton, and many others for a new project.  The album took years to make where in 2009, the band released a four-track EP called Splitting the Atom that received mixed reviews.  The EP served as a preview of what was to come for the band's fifth studio album Heligoland.

Written mostly by Robert del Naja & Neil Davidge, Heligoland is a hypnotic yet ethereal album that takes Massive Attack's trip-hop sound to a variety of styles.  With production work by the group along with Tim Goldsworthy of the DFA label, the album includes many vocal contributions from longtime collaborator Horace Andy plus TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, Hope Sandoval, Guy Garvey of Elbow, and Martina-Topley Bird of Tricky fame.  The album also includes contributions from Blur's Damon Albarn and Portishead Adrian Utley for what is certainly a haunting yet textured-driven album by Massive Attack as they reclaim some of their glory with Heligoland.

Opening the album is Pray For Rain with Tunde Adebimpe on vocals.  A chilling track with slow, vibrant, and hollow beats along with a soothing, wailing organ-like track.  Featuring a calm vocal performance from Tunde Adebimpe and haunting lyrics, the song is typical of Massive Attack in terms of its mood along with a building momentum of flowing keyboard melodies for the song‘s second half.  Babel is a mid-tempo track with sputtering tap beats and swooning keyboards that is accompanied by a driving bass line.  Led by Martina-Topley Bird's cool vocals, the song's tempo picks up during the chorus as it is filled with eerie lyrics and pulsating beats to add a brooding tone to the track.  Splitting The Atom is led by a swirling synthesizer track and a bopping clap track with a wailing organ-like track.  Led by Daddy G's low-sounding vocals and the mesmerizing vocals of Horace Andy, the track is definitely a reminder of the group's haunting sound.

Girl I Love You is a mid-tempo track that is spurred by throbbing beats, a chilling bass line, and Horace Andy's soaring yet entrancing vocals.  Featuring an array of tingling percussions in the background and swooning bass-synthesizer track, it is filled with superb production and a collage of wailing synthesizers that intensifies the track.  Psyche opens with a fast-paced, arpeggio-guitar track and a bopping beat that is followed by a swirling keyboard track.  With Martina-Topley Bird singing to the fast-paced melody of the song, she sings dark, imagery-laden lyrics as it a haunting yet mesmerizing track.  Flat Of The Blade, originally called Bulletproof Love, is led by fuzzy, looped keyboard track and buzzing sounds that is followed by Guy Garvey's hoarse vocals with sputtering tap beats.  Featuring a swooning keyboard track from Damon Albarn to accompany Garvey's vocals, it is definitely one of the album's standout tracks.

Paradise Circus is led by an array of vibrant beats and claps with hollow, pounding beats that includes chiming melodies and Hope Sandoval's raspy yet dreamy vocals.  Featuring psychedelic-driven lyrics, the track slows down a bit with just a simple snare drum and a smooth bass that is wonderfully layered by Daddy G's additional production work.  Rush Minute opens with smooth, vibrant tap beats and washy guitar strums that features 3D's raspy vocals as he sings hypnotic-laden lyrics.  Led by arpeggio guitar flourishes that intensifies during the chorus along with keyboards that drone through.  Saturday Come Slow is led by thumping beats and Adrian Utley's plaintive guitar track as Damon Albarn sings the song with somber lyrics.  Featuring an array of subtle, swirling keyboards and throbbing rhythms, it is another of the definite highlights of the album.  The album closer Atlas Air, a track that is led by a bopping snare beat and wailing organs that is followed by swooning keyboards.  Featuring 3D's raspy vocals, the  song features more vibrant beats as it intensifies during the performance along with droning keyboard swirls.

Accompanying the album on some versions of the album is a 38-minute, six-track remix EP.  The first track is the first of three remixes of Paradise Circus by Gui Boratto who adds more vibrant, hollow beats to the mix along with a somber piano track to accompany Hope Sandoval's vocals along with shaking percussions in the background.  Even as the mix employs wobbly bass lines to accompany the beats.  Tim Goldsworthy's remix of Pray For Rain is presented in a more upbeat presentation with frenetic synthesizer flourishes and vibrant, clanging beats to keep things moving.  Even as Tunde Adebimpe's vocals are sped-up a bit for the rhythm along with swirling synthesizers soaring through the background.  The next track called Fatalism is a remix of a track featuring Guy Garvey on vocals as it's remixed by Ryuchi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi.  Led by swirling synthesizers in the background along with soft, sputtering beats and a piano track.  It is the most eerie remix as Garvey's vocals are looped and distorted with a subtle background of pianos and sputtering beats that surrounds everything.

A remix of Girl I Love You by She Is Danger is an upbeat track filled with industrial-like, vibrant beats and Horace Andy's vocals that are sped up a bit to keep up with rhythm.  Notably for the use of reggae-like keyboards in the background that wail through.  Next is the second remix of Paradise Circus by Breakage's Tight Rope which is an upbeat, frenetic track with wailing bass synthesizer melodies and throbbing beats to complement Hope Sandoval's hazy vocals.  Even as it features speedy, pummeling beats in its coda.  The last track is the third and final remix of Paradise Circus by Gui Boratto for a dub mix.  Led by thumping yet distorted beats and siren-like synthesizer swirls, Sandoval's vocals play up to the new arrangements as it works in its presentation.

While it's an improvement over 100th Window, Heligoland doesn't exactly reach the heights of the landmark albums Massive Attack have made.  While there's a lot of material that is definitely strong, particularly in the remixes.  It's an album that doesn't have the sense of flow nor the overall consistency that made Blue Lines and Mezzanine the masterpieces that have been so highly regarded.  At the same time, the material that didn't make it into the final cut will upset some fans who have been hearing a lot of the new material through some live shows in the past few years.

Still, it's an excellent album from Massive Attack that does feature some great material and guest appearances.  Yet, it's not an easy album to listen to since it takes more than a few to digest and get into it.  It's definitely a different album than all of their previous records.  Even as it's clear that the band is trying to create new ideas.  While it may not live up to a lot of the band's early work, Heligoland is still a stellar album from Massive Attack.

Massive Attack Albums: Blue Lines - Protection - Mezzanine - 100th Window

(C) thevoid99 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Massive Attack-100th Window

Originally Written and Posted at 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.

Massive Attack Albums: Blue Lines - Protection - Mezzanine - Heligoland

(C) thevoid99 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Massive Attack-Mezzanine

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/9/09.

1994's Protection helped Massive Attack achieve considerable attention as the trip-hop sound they had created was now becoming a new sub genre that spawned a slew of acts. Though the collective that features 3D, Daddy G, and Mushroom were not enthused by the trip-hop name. The group was in demand to do collaborations and remixes with other artists, the electronic music scene was changing at a rapid pace where in 1997, it peaked but also fizzled at the same time once it captured the attention of America for a brief moment. It was also around the same time that things between the members of Massive Attack were not going very well.

Creative tension between the three members over musical directions were running high as well as what to do next for their third album. It was at the time a new collaborator had joined the fray in an unknown producer named Neil Davidge. Davidge shared 3D's enthusiasm for a new sound as did Daddy G though Mushroom was unsure as the making of the third album was bringing problems. Wanting to venture into post-punk with live instruments and more guitars on the record. Added to the fray in terms of vocal collaborators is famed Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser whose dreamy, evocative vocal style proved to be the right ingredient for the band's third album entitled Mezzanine.

Produced by Massive Attack and Neil Davidge, Mezzanine is a dark, heavy, and eerie album that strays away from the hip-hop, jazzy, laid-back textures of previous albums for a more Gothic, post-punk, guitar-driven sound. Featuring an array of samples from the likes of Issac Hayes to the Cure, the record does take the band's trip-hop sound to new heights with heavier electronic arrangements, droning synthesizers, and live drum tracks. Along with Elizabeth Fraser providing vocals on some tracks including members 3D and Daddy G, the record includes contributions from Sara Jay and longtime Massive Attack collaborator Horace Andy. The result is one of the 1990s most fascinating yet sprawling records of the electronic music genre.

The album opener Angel with Horace Andy on vocals, opens with droning bass lines, clicking beats, and even hollow beats with a swooning synthesizer melody. With Andy's calm, high-pitch vocals singing dark lyrics, he is followed by a melodic guitar track and an ominous back beat. The track's slow tempo continues as the song intensify with growling guitars and a loud drum fill that would set the tone for the entire album. Risingson, which features samples of a Pete Seeger song and the Velvet Underground's I Found A Reason, is a dub-inspired track with shimmering synthesizers, groove-laden bass tracks, thumping break-beats, and 3D's raspy vocals. With its haunting arrangements of synthesizers, beats, and its dub-like groove, Daddy G sings along with 3D to the song with its nightmarish lyrics.

Teardrop with its hollow beats that tap through the song with its soothing yet brooding arrangements of harpsichord-laden keyboards and heavy piano notes. Yet, it's Elizabeth Fraser's evocative vocals and melancholic lyrics is what makes the song so memorable with its brooding arrangements as well as its atmospheric production. Inertia Creeps opens with dreamy guitar meshes that later becomes this swooning yet Eastern-like sound that plays through with hollow beats, warbling synthesizers, and 3D's raspy vocals. With breaks that include a swooning synthesizer that is followed by more warbling, fuzzy synthesizers, and hollow beats. The instrumental track Exchange is a cover track of a Bob Hillard/Mort Garson composition as it features a sample of Issac Hayes' Our Day Will Come with soothing string instruments, thumping beats, bouncy jazz-like bass lines, and swirling keyboards.

Dissolved Girl, with vocalist Sara Jay, arrives with swirling synthesizer drones that is led by dub-style bass grooves and melodic-swooning synthesizers. With Jay's high-pitch, raspy vocal style, it's a melancholic song that features chime-laden guitar flourishes, shaking percussions, and tapping beats. With the keyboards start to shimmer, the guitars start to growl with the drum beats becoming more intense. Man Next Door, which includes a sample of the Cure's 10:15 Saturday Night, features hollow beats, heavy bass lines, hard-hitting snare fills, and Horace Andy's wailing vocals. With its creepy presentation and troubled lyrics, it's one of the album's best tracks as it delves into the album's dark tone.

Black Milk features a swooning bass line and melodic-swirling synthesizers that is accompanied by tapping beats. Along with a melodic-keyboard track, it's Elizabeth Fraser's dreamy vocals that shine through the song. Even as it features sounds of swirling electronic textures and scratches that play through the album's dark yet laid-back presentation. The album's title track opens with soft, melodic synthesizer tracks as it arrives to some throbbing, hollow beats and droning bass lines. With 3D's raspy vocals and Daddy G's low-sounding raps, it's a song that mixes dub bass lines, droning guitars, tapping beats, and warbling synthesizers that provide some dark, wobbly bass grooves.

Group Four arrives with droning synthesizers and scratchy electronic swirls that shimmer through until a melodic, ringing guitar arrives with dub bass grooves and tapping, hollow beats. With 3D's raspy vocals singing a verse, it's Elizabeth Fraser's hypnotic vocals that really drive the song with its complex, layered arrangements as 3D and Fraser trade verses. Even as the song features intense, hollow beats along with droning bass lines and growling guitars to help make the track more menacing. The album closer is (Exchange) which is Exchange but with vocals by Horace Andy as he sings in his calm, nasally vocal style that provides a soothing closer to the album.

Released in April of 1998, the album initially received mixed reviews from fans and critics over the band's new sound. Once the single for Teardrop was released, the album finally started to gain acclaim as it turned out to be the group's most successful album to date. A tour followed with a live band that was successful but also grueling. Friction between Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles and the rest of the group was increasing over touring and creative directions. Finally in 1999, Vowles left the band where a year later, the group took a break from recording until 2001 where the tension between 3D and Daddy G over creative directions would come ahead.

Mezzanine is a spectacular, ambitious, dark, yet haunting masterpiece from Massive Attack and company. While each preceding record has a different sound from the more hip-hop driven Blue Lines and the laid-back sounds of Protection. This record is meaner, unsettling, and also creepy at times. With vocal contributions from Sara Jay, Horace Andy, and Elizabeth Fraser all providing great work, it's a record that is meant to be played at night during a long drive somewhere. It's moody and filled with superb production from start to finish. In the end, for something that is dark yet has amazing sound textures. Mezzanine is the record to get from Massive Attack.

Massive Attack Albums: Blue Lines - Protection - 100th Window - Heligoland

(C) thevoid99 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Massive Attack-Protection

Originally Written and Posted at 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.

Massive Attack Albums: Blue Lines - Mezzanine - 100th Window - Heligoland

(C) thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Massive Attack-Blue Lines

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/4/09.

In the decade that introduced the world to house music and electronic music. The 1990s was truly a watershed moment for the genre as it moved away from the world of synth-pop and dance music. It was at this time during the late 80s and early 90s that DJs and musicians began to experiment with new instruments and gadgets to create new sounds. One sub genre that came out of electronic music from the early 90s is trip-hop. A blend of hip-hop, moody electronic music, soul, dub, and jazz. It was a sound that helped give hip-hop artists and MCs a chance to experiment with new sounds. Among those artists who would help shape that genre was a trio of DJs and rappers collective known as Massive Attack.

Formed as a production trio in 1988, the collective featured MC Robert Del Naja aka 3D, DJ/rapper Grant Marshall aka Daddy G, and DJ/producer Andrew Vowles aka Mushroom. Massive Attack spent a few years in Bristol working in the club scene and shaping dance and electronic music throughout the years as part of the Wild Bunch collective that featured producer Nellee Hooper and vocalist/producer Tricky. During those years, the group began to shape a sound with slower rhythms, smooth bass grooves, break-beats, and jazz samples that would shape the sound of trip-hop. Collaborating with several vocalists including Neneh Cherry that helped spawn some underground buzz. Then in April of 1991, the music world suddenly changed with the release of the group's landmark debut album entitled Blue Lines.

Produced by Massive Attack with Cameron McVey, and Jonny Dollar, Blue Lines is an album filled with groove-laden, soothing electronic music driven by reggae dub bass lines, 70s soul music samples, hip-hop break beats, and slower rhythms that would help shape the genre. With all music performances by the trio of 3D, Daddy G, and Mushroom with 3D and Daddy G contributing vocals. The record includes appearances from vocalists, some of whom would become frequent collaborators, like Horace Andy, Neneh Cherry, Shara Nelson, and Tricky. The result would be a record that would help change the face of electronic music and the Bristol music scene for many years to come.

The album opener and third single Safe From Harm opens with a throbbing bass line and smooth, bouncy beats that drive the song with swooning, windy synthesizer backgrounds and another swooning synthesizer that accompanies Shara Nelson's vocals. With Nelson's soulful vocals with 3D singing backup with his raspy vocals with lyrics about the dark nightlife. With warbling guitars playing a funky riff with its driving bass lines as it features superb, atmospheric production that sets the tone for the rest of the album. One Love with Horace Andy on vocals features slow beats, melodic synthesizers, and Andy's high-tenor reggae-style vocals. With its simple lyrics about one love, it's a song that features a dark sound with turntable scratches, guitars, and samples of melodic horn blares.

The title track featuring Tricky is a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music. With its throbbing beats, turntable scratches, and smooth jazz hooks, it's one of the album's most definitive moments as it features jazz pianos and Tricky's laid-back raps as he switches verses with Daddy G and 3D. With its slow yet calm presentation of throbbing beats, soothing keyboards, and lyrics referencing pop culture and the world in its atmospheric, laid-back tone. Be Thankful For What You've Got is a cover of the 70s soul classic by William DeVaughn. With its smooth, bouncy beats with turntable scratches, throbbing bass lines, and Tony Bryan's soulful, high-tenor vocals with its hopeful lyrics. With a dose of funky guitars and backing vocals, it's an amazing cover that is a cool reinterpretation of the 70s soul classic.

Five Man Army features bouncy, dub-style beats with clap-like snares and cymbal crashes as it features Daddy G's low-sounding rap with fast-paced lyrics as it features backing from Horace Andy. With swanky, reggae style guitars and dub-like bass lines, it features Tricky doing a rap as it includes additional rap from Claude "Willie Wee" Williams and 3D doing a smooth, raspy rap with Andy's nasally-style vocals. Unfinished Sympathy is another of the album's groundbreaking tracks with its fast-paced beats, turntable scratches, soothing string arrangements by Wil Malone, and flourishing keyboard melodies. With Shara Nelson's somber yet wailing vocals, it's a song that really sets the stage of 1990s dance and electronic music as it features an array of beats that are fast yet rhythmic arrangement as it's a song that is truly mesmerizing.

The album's first single Daydreaming with Shara Nelson and Tricky is a funky track with throbbing rhythms in its scratchy beats and bass lines with Nelson's soothing, dreamy vocals and Tricky's cool, backing vocals. With melodic synthesizers playing to Tricky's rap with its daydreaming lyrics as Daddy G and 3D pop up for a rap with Tricky leading the way. With Nelson returning to sing a soulful, sensual vocal with Tricky's rap, it's a track that is powerful in its arrangements and production. Lately is a bouncy, mid-tempo track with warbling bass synthesizers, turntable scratches, and thumping beats as it accompanies Nelson's soothing vocals. Led by its warbling synthesizer melody, it's a song that plays it cool while being funky as Nelson's vocals really shine.

The album closer, fourth single, and what is probably one of its finest cuts is Hymn Of The Big Wheel with main vocals by Horace Andy plus arrangements and additional vocals by Neneh Cherry. With its swooning synthesizers with melodic flourishes and thumping, sputtering beats with a slow rhythm, it's Andy's smooth, reggae-inspired vocals with its hopeful lyrics that really captivates the song's mood. With its famed chorus where Andy is joined by Neneh Cherry, it's a song that is wonderfully produced with great arrangements for the synthesizers and drum machine beats as it sets a cool, soothing mood to end the album.

Released in April of 1991 in Britain, the album was hailed as a landmark record from critics all over Britain though sales were slow until the release of Unfinished Sympathy as a single. When the record was released in the U.S. in August of that year, it received similar acclaim though it didn't make much of an impact. Still, the record managed to become a landmark for electronic music in Britain as the electronic music scene started to gain ground with various sub genres forming through clubs all over Britain. Even as the Madchester music scene from Manchester was starting to die down.

Blue Lines is a cool, atmospheric, and seductive debut record from Massive Attack that is truly one of the best debut albums ever made. Audiences interested in the trip-hop sub genre will no doubt see this as the best place to start as well as for those interested in Massive Attack outside of compilations. Thanks to the vocal contributions of Tricky, Shara Nelson, Tony Bryan, and Horace Andy. It's a record that is fun to listen to at night while wanting something that isn't a full-on party album as it just wants to play it cool. In the end, Blue Lines is a landmark recording for electronic music and the trip-hop sub genre from Massive Attack.

Massive Attack Albums: Protection - Mezzanine - 100th Window - Heligoland

(C) thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Prodigy-Invaders Must Die

Originally Written and Posted on on 3/29/09.

When the Prodigy returned following a seven-year hiatus with their fourth studio album Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. The album was met with a lot of anticipation but the result was mixed responses from fans and critics. Notably since the record is really the group's brainchild Liam Howlett doing all of the music with various vocalists guesting on the record. Absent from the album were group vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim Reality, the latter would appear in a remix in one of its singles. It was around the time Howlett had a falling out with Flint, who had received attention in the band's hey-day for his punk look and singing on the band's famed singles from The Fat of the Land back in 1997.

In 2005, Howlett, Flint, and Reality released the best-of compilation Their Law: The Singles 1991-2005 which included a remix of Voodoo People and Out Of Space as its promotional single. The record also marked the band's last release for a major label as well as their affiliation with Madonna's record label Maverick, which had been acquired fully by Warner Brothers. After a two-year hiatus, Howlett and company decided to form their own label with help from the famed Cooking Vinyl label while starting work on their fifth studio album entitled Invaders Must Die.

Produced by Liam Howlett with additional production by James Rushnet of Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Invaders Must Die is an album that returns Howlett and company to the energetic, charging sounds of albums like Music for the Jilted Generation and The Fat of the Land. Though doesn't have the speedy, big-beat sounds of those records in some respects, the return of Maxim Reality and Keith Flint adds bite to the album for some hardcore electronic music with big beats and such. Featuring contributions from Dave Grohl of Nirvana & the Foo Fighters on drums and British vocalist/songwriter Amanda Ghost on backing vocals. Invaders Must Die is an album that Howlett and company got their mojo back.

The albums with its leading single in its title track co-produced by James Rushnet. Starting off with a warbling, intense track of bass lines from synthesizers and keyboards, it is followed by fuzzier keyboards and a simple, drum beat that goes into rock mode. With its squealing, high-pitch, fuzzy vocals and distorted vocals of its title, it's a song that gives the album a good start though it's not a great track overall. The second single Omen is a track with squealing synthesizers, driving beats, and intense bass lines that has Keith Flint singing through warbling vocal mixes. Yet, it's a track that has a lot of energy and crazy, intense beats that play through as it's a great choice for a single. Thunder is a track with growling guitars, Maxim's reggae-inspired vocals, and upbeat, bumping beats. With its layers of droning, bleeping synthesizers and frenetic beat arrangements, it's a song that really captures the energy of the early sounds of the Prodigy.

Colours with backing vocals by Amanda Ghost, is an energetic, frenetic song with a punk-rock energy in guitar and vocals from Flint and Ghost. With its charging guitars, wailing synthesizer melodies, and industrial-like beats, it's a song that has a great energy though its flawed when it slows down a bit every time. Take Me To The Hospital is a pulsating, warbling track with blaring synthesizer melodies, bumping beats, and fuzzy bass lines with vocals that are distorted through its layers and performance. Keith Flint's punk-growling vocals come in for the middle of the song as he delves into its energy and all of its carnage-like presentation. The third and current single Warrior Dance opens with a saxophone solo that wails through with hollow, thundering beats. With its wavy, melodic synthesizers and the vocals of Bridgette Grace from a sample of Take Me Away by True Faith & Final Cut. It's a song that is energetic yet filled with an array of beats from the very fast to simpler, more rollicking beats as it's another fantastic single from the Prodigy.

Run With The Wolves with drums by Dave Grohl, is a rocking song with charging guitars, Grohl's hard-pounding, upbeat drums, and wailing synthesizers. Led by Flint's growling vocals, it's a song that is brilliant in its electro-punk style with Grohl's drum being the main force along with Flint's punk-like demeanor. A reprise of Omen with its spurting synthesizers, bubbling noises, and blaring keyboards with vocals from its track popping up. World's On Fire is a track that features two samples, I Just Want To Get Along by the Breeders and Vamp by Outlander. With Maxim's vocals saying the line repeatedly through out the song, it's that vocal line that is the only major flaw for the track as it's repeated for the entirety of the song. Yet, it's arrangements of frenetic beats, blazing synthesizer layers ranging from flourishing melodies to squealing drones that does make the song bearable despite is repeated vocal line.

Piranha is a fast, industrial-rocker with an array of layered beats ranging from tribal to metallic as its accompanied by driving guitars and blaring synthesizers. With Maxim's growling vocals, it's a song that continues to maintain the album's energy along with eerie, theremin-like synthesizer tracks. The album's final track is Stand Up featuring Dave Grohl on drums. Opening with an ominous synthesizer drone that builds up, it starts to arrive with blaring, melodic trumpets from samples of songs by Manfred Mann. With Grohl's mid-tempo yet thundering drums, it's a song that has a simple beat and pounding bass lines. With its layers of squealing synthesizers and bouncing presentation, it's a fitting closer to the album.

Appearing in several deluxe versions and a four-track EP entitled Lost Beats are two bonus tracks. First is Black Smoke, an instrumental track with driving, droning bass synthesizers and metallic, tribal beats. With claps and growling guitars, it's a nice instrumental track that doesn't have much going for it despite its unique arrangements. Fighter Beat is another instrumental with wavy, droning synthesizers that plays through along with industrial-like, scratchy beats. With distorted clap beats and melodic synthesizer flourishes and bleeps, it's another interesting instrumental track that doesn't go anywhere but shows that Howlett wasn't running out of ideas.

While Invaders Must Die doesn't reach the brilliance of the 1990s recordings the Prodigy made, it's still an excellent yet energetic and fun album from Liam Howlett, Maxim Reality, and Keith Flint. Fans will rejoice in the fact that the band found their mojo after the somewhat lackluster Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned and the very misguided Baby's Got A Temper single. While it may not be innovative, it's a record that doesn't dated either as Liam Howlett along with his various collaborators finally created an album that does live up to what the Prodigy can do. In the end, Invaders Must Die is a declaration that the Prodigy is back and not ready to go away quietly.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Prodigy-Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/27/09.

1997's The Fat of the Land help the Prodigy break through the American mainstream as the album debuted at #1 in the album charts as it became a worldwide hit. Despite the album's success, the group courted controversy over its single and video for the song Smack My Bitch Up. At the same time, the group's vocalist and dancer Keith Flint became the face of the band as he grabbed all of the attention away from the group's brainchild Liam Howlett. In response to the controversy and Flint's sudden attention, Howlett released a DJ mix album called The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1 to rave reviews in early 1999. After that, the Prodigy suddenly disappeared with Flint and fellow vocalist Maxim Reality decided to focus on their own side projects. In 2000, dancer/occasional keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill left the group to forge a DJ career.

The Prodigy was unheard of until 2002 when the group decided to release a new single for the song Baby's Got A Temper. Originally a song for Keith Flint's side project, Flint asked Howlett to produce the track as it became a release from the Prodigy. The reaction towards the single was very negative while the song courted controversy over references a date rape drug. Howlett later disowned the single as he continued his hiatus until the summer of 2004 when he returned without Flint and Reality for a new album from the Prodigy featuring many guests entitled Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.

Produced by Liam Howlett, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is an album that has Howlett returning to the simplified sounds of The Fat of the Land with less emphasize on extended instrumental suites and more about songs. With guest appearances ranging from actress Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith, Noel & Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Princess Superstar, and many others. The record is about vocals as it meshes with various electronics with Howlett taking new tricks. Though it doesn't reach the heights of past albums nor brings anything new to the electronic music genre. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is still a fascinating album from Liam Howlett and the Prodigy.

The album opener Spitfire with vocals by Juliette Lewis that features some bleeping keyboards and Eastern-like female vocal chants. With driving guitar riffs and blaring flute-like noises along with bumping, rumbling industrial-like drums. It's Lewis' punk-growling vocals that drive the song along with Matt Robertson's drum tracks and Howlett's arrangements of synthesizers and noises. The single Girls with vocals by the Magnificent Ping-Pong B*tches and samples of Style Of The Street by Broken Glass and You're The One For Me by D Train is a pulsating, upbeat track that pays tribute to old-school hip-hop. With robotic voices and raps, it is followed by fuzzy synthesizers and funky keyboard riffs as it's a great song that is filled with lots of energy and funk rhythms. The second single Memphis Bells with Princess Superstar on vocals has warbling, fizzed-out synthesizers with clapping, grinding beats and guitars. With Superstar's raspy, growling vocals, and bells in the background, it's an excellent song though it doesn't have much going for it musically.

Get Up Get Off with Juliette Lewis, Twista, and Shahih Badar is a fast, mid-tempo track with bumping, grinding beats with Twista's fast raps and Shahih Badar's wailing vocal chants. With Lewis' fuzzy vocals and musical presentation of droning synthesizers and keyboard melodies, it's a track that's fun though musically repetitive since not much goes on. Hotride with Juliette Lewis is an upbeat, fast-charging track with shimmering synthesizers, driving bass and guitars from Liam Howlett and Scott Donaldson, respectively, and backing vocals by Hanna Robinson. Along with a sample of Up, Up & Away by Jim Webb, it's a rocking song with industrial-like beats and Lewis' punk-style vocals as she also delves into a sexy vocal style reminiscent of Curve's Toni Halliday. Wake Up Call with Kool Keith is a track with throbbing bass lines and beats that drive the song with industrial-like beats for this rhythmic, intense track. Featuring Kool Keith's intense, engaging raps, it's a track that has bells ringing, wailing flutes, and distorted vocals from Hanna Robinson and Louise Boone.

Action Radar with Paul "Dirtcandy" Jackson is a mid-tempo, synthesizer-fused track with swirls and droning melodies that play through the pulsating beats. Yet, it doesn't have much imagination as even Paul Jackson sings in a raspy vocal that doesn't do anything which includes Louise Boone's backing vocals who sings in a sensual, high-pitch vocal style. Medusa's Path which includes samples of ELAHAYE Naz by Gholamhossein Banan and Plastic Dreams (Hohner Retro Mix) by Jaydee is an instrumental track of swirling, Indian music with throbbing beats and droning synthesizers along with fuzzy, wavy synthesizers. Musically, it has some good moments but nothing really interesting at all. Phoenix is one of the album's best cuts thanks to a sample of the Shocking Blue song Love Buzz, that was famously covered by Nirvana. The sample is the basis for the song with its melodic bass line with additional guitars from Matt Robertson and vocals from Louise Boone. With its grinding guitars, throbbing rhythms and melodies, it's a track that really stands out for its sample and deconstruction.

You Will Be Under My Wheels with Kool Keith is a track with horn-like synthesizer melodies, fuzzy beats and bass drones, wailing guitars, and Kool Keith's vocals. Despite its arrangements, the track doesn't do anything with Keith not doing much on the vocals department as it's surrounded by swirling synthesizers. The Way It Is which includes a sample Michael Jackson's Thriller with its use of its melodic, frenetic synthesizers and beats remixed by Matt Robertson and Rinse with engineer Neil MacLellan and Louise Boone adding vocals. Yet, with a song as famous as Thriller, it's the highlight of track but doesn't do anything with its fuzzy synthesizers and squealing, flute-like keyboard tracks. The album closer Shoot Down with Liam Howlett's brother-in-law Liam Gallagher on vocals and Noel Gallagher on bass plus a sample of My World Fell Down by Saggitarius is a mid-tempo, rocking song. With its melodic synthesizers and industrial-like drum tracks, Liam's raspy vocals bring some excitement in the song with driving guitars by Mike Horner. Though it's an excellent song, it doesn't entirely work due to Howlett trying to cram too many sounds with an overuse of synthesizers and instrumental bridges that kind of takes away the song's rocking energy.

Released in August 2004 and made in the span of six years, the album received mixed reviews from critics with some felt it was a letdown. Even as it came out seven years after its last studio album The Fat of the Land. The album was still successful commercially despite its sales not big in comparison to its predecessor with electronic fans felt it sounded dated at times. The record did manage to reveal that Liam Howlett was the man behind the brains of the Prodigy as a remix of Girls called More Girls featured Maxim Reality on vocals. It was around the same time that Howlett and vocalist Keith Flint were having a falling out as Howlett forged ahead with promotion of the new album.

While it's nowhere near the brilliance of the group's previous albums, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is still a good record from Liam Howlett and the Prodigy. With some excellent guest appearances from Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith, and the Gallagher brothers along with some great songs. It's a record that has some great moments and those that are all right but not great due to things that sound dated and not up to snuff with past recordings. Still, it's a record that rocks and is worth a listen. In the end, Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is a good though flawed album from the Prodigy.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Prodigy-The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/25/09.

After the release of 1997's The Fat of the Land, the Prodigy were clearly the hottest electronic music act around the world. Despite their success, the band courted controversy over their single Smack My Bitch Up along with its accompanying music video. More problems emerged at the 1998 Reading Festival when the Beastie Boys asked the Prodigy not to play that song and they did as they were accused by feminists groups and such over misogyny. Around the same time, the Prodigy was now being looked as an electro-punk act thanks to the attention devoted to its vocalist/dancer Keith Flint and in his punk look. For the group's brainchild and producer Liam Howlett, the attention on the music seemed lost as he made a guest appearance on BBC radio doing some DJ mixes that proved to be popular. In response to its popularity, Howlett decided to release a compilation album of DJ mixes he created entitled The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1.

Produced and compiled by Liam Howlett, The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1 is a mixtape of material from Howlett compiling records from various artists into a mix album. Filled with an array of music ranging from the Beastie Boys, Ultramagnetic MC's, Chemical Brothers, Jane's Addiction, Meat Beat Manifesto, the Sex Pistols, and many others. It's an album that has Howlett taking control and deconstruct pieces of music into eight untitled tracks into a record of nearly fifty-two minutes of music. The result is a unique, entertaining album from Liam Howlett.

The album begins with thumping hip-hop style snare beats from RUN-DMC as it starts the record with a nice rhythm. Then the scratches come in for something more shimmering with its beats and bass lines as it segues into some scratchy tribal beats of old-school hip-hop. With some scratches and swirling synthesizers, it delves into 70s funk to maintain a nice groove with some disco bass lines. Then the Ultramagnetic MC's appear with a portion of Give The Drummer Some which includes the line "smack my bitch up like a pimp". The old-school continues with some scratchy, clapping beats and frenetic bass lines with synthesizers playing around with Chic heard in the background. With its thumping presentation continuing with Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five appearing to continue along with the vibrant sounds of Bomb the Bass. With Flash and the Furious Five returning for some old-school hip-hop. The vibe changes with the Madchester sounds of the Charlatans UK as it is followed by various beats until the appearance of the Prodigy's own Poison to play the electronic vibe.

The barking dogs arrive for the sound of Jane's Addiction's Been Caught Stealing to shimmy up the record with Tim Dog making an appearance for some hardcore hip-hop with the Boogie Down Production also making an appearance. The mood suddenly changes into a 70s-style song of funk and hip-hop with warbling, melodic guitar playing with a female vocalist singing. With its movement towards old-school hip-hop and scratches from the Chemical Brothers, it becomes full-on old-school with layers of beats, voices, and tribal beats to the point that it's time to break-dance. Moving towards electronic-dance courtesy of Josh Wink, KLF, and many others, it dabbles into funk with an appearance from Meat Beat Manifesto's Radio Babylon with its shimmering beats. With scratchy beats and vocals coming, it returns to old-school hip-hop with appearances from Herbie Hancock's Rock It, the Beastie Boys, and the Prodigy's Smack My B*tch Up as it goes for an incredible mash-up that is intoxicating.

The Sex Pistols suddenly appear with New York in a full-on charge with their punk-rock attitude with the swirling, bumping beats of Fatboy Slim coming through as it changes the vibe from punk to big beats. The old-school hip-hop starts to return in a mash-up of various tracks that features the bass lines from Primal Scream's Vanishing Point along with its swirling synthesizers. The Beastie Boys appear for some old-school hip-hop with the soothing soul of Barry White joining them along with the charging sounds of Public Enemy. With the old-school hip-hop vibe returning, LL Cool J makes an appearance with his frenetic rapping style as the sounds of the Digital Underground's Humpty Hump making an appearance with a mesh of sounds from Cold Cut, Uptown, and the London Funk All-Stars. It becomes all hip-hop right to the end with scratchy beats, spurts of rap, and other old-school vibes like robotic vocals and tribal beats. Even as it features a shimmering presentation of funky saxophones and beats with grinding guitars playing along.

Released in February of 1999, the record came out with no major hype or buzz as it was just released to little attention. Yet, the record did receive some critical acclaim due to Liam Howlett's mash-up of various tracks by other artists as it was considered one of the best DJ mix tapes ever made. The record however, was really a stop-gap album in between studio projects for the band where Keith Flint and Maxim Reality decided to venture into their own side projects. In 2000, the group's longtime dancer/occasional keyboardist Leeroy Thornhill left the group to venture into his own career as a DJ. With electronic music moving forward into the Internet age and the use of laptops, it was clear that the Prodigy's reign as electronic music's biggest act had come to an end with a hiatus period that would prove to be troubling.

The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1 is a brilliant, fun, and exciting record from Liam Howlett as he proves to be the reason why the Prodigy is one of electronic music's most popular acts. While it's not as accessible as their previous studio albums, the record is still one of the most enjoyable pieces of music as it stands to be one of the best DJ mix albums ever made. It delves into various styles with a fitting tribute to old-school hip-hop while proving that Liam Howlett has great ears for samples and such. In the end, The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol. 1 is a brilliant album that serves as a great party mix while giving the listener great excuses to break-dance

(C) thevoid99 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Prodigy-The Fat of the Land

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/23/09.

After the huge success of 1994's Music for the Jilted Generation, the Prodigy were now becoming one of the leading acts of the burgeoning electronic music scene in Britain. Often coined as electronica, the Prodigy along with a slew of acts were bringing in a new sound of dance music that was filled with big beats, lots of hypnotic synthesizers, and something that even rock audiences can mosh too. It was considered to be the music of the future with some said that rock would be out and electronic music to be in. After a successful tour including a few shows at Lollapalooza in 1996, the Prodigy were clearly getting ready to take charge of the electronica movement where late that year, they released the single for Firestarter.

The single featured a music video that had the band's longtime dancer Keith Flint sporting a new punk look as he also sang lead vocals for the very first time. While Liam Howlett was the group's brainchild, Flint suddenly became the face for the Prodigy as the single managed to become an unexpected hit in the American modern rock charts. The sudden success in America brought attention to the industry and MTV with even bands like U2 and David Bowie jumping in on the burgeoning electronic movement as many were convinced that it was the music of the future. After another single called Breathe was released and became a hit both in the U.K. and U.S. with other electronic acts getting attention. It was clear that 1997 was going to be the year of electronica with the Prodigy leading the way as audience anticipated for the release of the band's third album entitled The Fat of the Land.

Produced by Liam Howlett, The Fat of the Land is an album filled with diverse styles of music ranging from big, industrial beats, trance-induced songs, hardcore dance numbers, and pulsating, heavy electro-rock tracks. Along with vocal contributions from members Keith Flint and Maxim Reality along with guest appearances from Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills, Republica's Saffron, and Ultramagnetic MC's vocalist Kool Keith. Along with contributions from future Pitchshifter guitarist Jim Davies, Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello on a bonus track. While it doesn't have the consistency or edginess of Music for the Jilted Generation, The Fat of the Land is still a phenomenal album from Liam Howlett and company.

The album opens with its controversial single Smack My Bitch Up which features a sample of the Ultramagnetic MC's song Give The Drummer Some which features the vocals of Kool Keith. With its droning, fuzzy synthesizer and smooth, pulsating beats with cymbal crashes, it features squealing noises and electronic drones. The song's infamous line from Kool Keith, "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up" is a catchy line though it's heavily edited to make it controversial with its swirling noises of synthesizers and the eerie, trance-like vocals of Indian singer Shahin Badar. The album's second single Breathe that features vocals from Keith Flint and Maxim Reality is a hypnotic yet rhythmic track with big, heavy beats and melodic-flourishing synthesizers. With its throbbing bass line and beats along with scratchy sounds and thrashing guitars for the song's vocal parts sung by Flint and Reality as they trade verses towards each other. It's a song that is intense yet fun to dance to with its arrangements and production.

Diesel Power featuring Kool Keith on vocals and lyrics with its hollow bass-synthesizers that get louder with throbbing, pulsating beats with intense snare tracks. With its trance-like arrangements of bass, beats, and swirling synthesizers, it's Kool Keith's frenetic, intense rapping that really makes the track one of the album's standout cuts. The instrumental track Funky Shit with a voice sample of saying "Oh my God, that's the funky shit" from the Beastie Boys' Root Down as it pops up throughout the track. With its frenetic, warbling synthesizers, scratchy arrangements, and pulsating, throbbing beats, it's an instrumental that is a pure hardcore dance track with its layers of beats, swirling synthesizers, and intense performances. Serial Thrilla is an electro-rocker with industrial-like intensity in its pulsating beats, driving guitars with samples of riffs from the band Skunk Anansie. Yet, it's Keith Flint's punkish vocals and Howlett's layered, scratchy arrangements of driving synthesizers and beats that makes this track another stand out.

Mindfields is a largely-instrumental track with ominous synthesizer arrangements with Oriental-like notes, throbbing beats that come in a mid-tempo rhythm and warbling synthesizer melodies to accompany. Along with Maxim Reality's growling vocals, the track moves back and forth in terms of its production and mix as its sound lowers and then goes back full-on with breaks by Reality's vocals. The nine-minute Narayan with Crispian Mills on vocals is a trance-like track filled melodic synthesizer flourishes that delve into psychedelia. With its pulsating, snare-driven arrangements of beats and warbling, scratchy synthesizer, it's Crispian Mills' vocals filled with psychedelic-induced lyrics that kind of takes the song out of its element. Therefore, Mills' contributions is the only sore spot for the song as it often drags at times despite Howlett's arrangements and performance.

The album's leading single Firestarter that features samples of Art of Noise's Close (To The Edit) and the Breeders' S.O.S. With its blaring, wailing guitar solo, frenetic synthesizers, pulsating beats with additional live drums from Matt Cameron, it's a track that is intense and powerful due to Keith Flint's punkish vocals and angry lyrics. It's also the band's most defining single as it's a song that is a great mix of punk, rock, and electronic music. The instrumental Climbatize is a trance-like track with soothing keyboards and pulsating, hi-hat cymbal taps that is followed by a striking, melodic synthesizer and throbbing bass line. With smooth, tribal beats playing in the background, it's an instrumental that doesn't really do much as it drags the album near its closing momentum. The album's final track is a cover of the L7/Cosmic Psychos song Fuel My Fire is an electro-rocker that features intense, pulsating beats and wailing guitars. Yet, it's a track that sort of works in instrumentation for the most part except for annoying keyboard solo in the middle. What doesn't work is the annoying punk-like vocals from Keith Flint and the extremely backing vocals from Republica's Saffron as it closes the album with a whimper.

Two bonus tracks that appear in the Japanese version of the album includes a B-side and a track from the Spawn film soundtrack. The first is the B-side to Firestarter in Molotov B*tch. The instrumental track features siren-like sounds in the background with throbbing, bass-driven beats that pulsate through the entire track. With its scratchy arrangements and sweeping sounds of synthesizers makes this track a nice B-side proving Howlett's talents in arrangements and production. The second bonus track from the Spawn film soundtrack is track called One Man Army that features guitar work from Tom Morello. The bass-throbbing track with big, pulsating beats, blaring synthesizer sirens and scratchy arrangements includes Morello's scratchy, fuzzy guitar work and raps from an unidentified vocalist. The track is an excellent rarity that shows Howlett's superb arrangements and the superb guitar work of Tom Morello in its fusions for electronic music and rock.

Released in July of 1997, the album was met with a lot of hype and anticipation as it debuted at the top of the album charts in the U.K. and in the U.S. The latter of which was a surprise of sorts due to the hype as it became so far, the only electronic album to reach #1 in the U.S. album charts. Despite the Prodigy's success in America where the album sold two million copies, the American music industry who had hoped that its success would help break electronic music into the American mainstream only failed. Instead, the public consciousness for something lighter and simpler in the aftermath of grunge rock and gangsta rap was answered by the likes of new pop acts like the Spice Girls, Hanson, and the Backstreet Boys while hip-hop got glossier thanks to the likes of Sean "Puffy" Combs. While rock music got safer thanks to bands like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty, another music genre that grabbed the consciousness of the American public as an alternative scene was a ska music revival.

For the so-called electronica movement in America, it was clear that American audiences weren't ready like punk rock music 20 years before then. Though the Prodigy did become massively successful while courting controversy over its song Smack My Bitch Up which included a music video filled with drug use and strong sexual content that offended feminist groups. The Prodigy forged ahead as they toured some shows in the U.S. in 1998 while maintaining their status as electronic music's leading act in the U.K. Yet, the success would also prove problematic with Keith Flint suddenly being the face of the band that overshadowed the talents of its brainchild Liam Howlett.

While it doesn't have the brilliance or consistency of their first two albums, The Fat of the Land is still an excellent album from the Prodigy. While it's regarded as their most accessible work due to their famed singles along with some notable album cuts in the album's first half including Kool Keith's contributions. The album's unevenness in its second half due to a lackluster cover, misguided appearances, and moments where the album drags is what makes the album realize it's not great as people claim it is. Still, it's a fascinating record where at a time, people thought that electronic music would replace rock music. Yet, today, it remains an underground sensation with some moments appearing in the mainstream though still manages to remain daring and uncompromising. In the end, despite its flaws, The Fat of the Land is still a stellar yet fun album from the Prodigy.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Prodigy-Music for the Jilted Generation/More Music for the Jilted Generation

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/22/09

After the release of 1992's Experience, the Prodigy, led by its brainchild Liam Howlett along with vocalist Maxim Reality and dancers Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill, were riding a wave of success due to its singles and shows that were making an impact on the U.K. rave scene. Despite its success, anti-rave laws in Britain were proving troubling while the electronic scene was evolving with Liam Howlett paying full attention. Moving into the hardcore techno scene while experimenting with rock and industrial dance, Howlett began to take his experiments on a single that would eventually be called One Love as it became a success. The single's success would help Howlett take on a record that would prove to the Prodigy's greatest work to date entitled Music for the Jilted Generation.

Written, produced, and performed by Liam Howlett with additional work from Neil McLellan along with writing contributions from group vocalist Maxim Reality and the famed British alternative band Pop Will Eat Itself. Music for the Jilted Generation is an album filled with intense, sprawling tracks devoting to hardcore techno with industrial beats, rock numbers, and music suites as it delves into the subject matter of anti-rave laws and drugs. Confrontational yet energetic, it's an album that proves why Liam Howlett is considered to be one of the best artists of the burgeoning electronic music movement of the 1990s. The result isn't just one of the best electronic albums of the decade but an album that helped define a music movement.

The album begins with an intro of droning synthesizers, typewriters, soft chimes, and various noises with a man talking in noir-like rhythm. Then comes Break And Enter with its throbbing, pulsating tap beats and sounds of broken glass as it features backgrounds of pulsating, metallic beats and siren-like sounds. With its warbling, droning synthesizer flourish, it's a track that definitely sets the tone for its dark, rave sound with female vocals in the background courtesy of a sample of Baby D's Casanova. The electro-rocker Their Law featuring Pop Will Eat Itself with its grinding guitars, warbling synthesizers, thumping beats, and Clint Mansell's growling vocals. With lyrics about the anti-rave laws, it's droning synthesizer and aggressive tone makes this cut one of the album's key standout tracks.

Full Throttle is a fast, thumping track with swirling keyboards that becomes this vibrant track with pulsating tribal beats, distorted scratches, vocal samples, and wailing piano tracks. Along with a sample from the 1977 film Star Wars, it features frenetic synthesizers and piano tracks that plays up to the track's speedy beats. Voodoo People opens with grinding guitar by Lance Riddler with intense, pulsating beats that play through with squealing synthesizer notes that play through along with wailing melodies. Featuring a sample of Nirvana's Very Ape, it's one of the album's best cuts and one of the best singles from the Prodigy ever released. Speedway (Theme From Fastlane) is a fast track featuring noises of race cars passing by with fast, frenetic synthesizer blares and throbbing, pulsating beats with sirens in the background. With its layers of striking synthesizers along with another synthesizer playing wooing notes as it later becomes this swooning, hypnotic track.

The Heat (The Energy) is a pulsating track with its rhythmic, thumping beats and wavy synthesizer line that gets more intense with its speedy, heavy beats and scratchy keyboards. With sections of wailing synthesizer blares and swirling noises that play in the background, it's an intense track with speedy vocals as it's a full-on, hardcore rave track. Poison is a dark, heavy track with droning synthesizer warbles and layers of beats ranging from hi-hat accompaniments to pulsating, mid-tempo beats that serves as the driving force of the song. With Maxim Reality's growling vocals, it's a track that is heavy with its industrial-like aggression and blasting production that is truly amazing to hear. No Good (Start The Dance) is a hypnotic track with its speedy bass lines and frenetic, metallic beats with thumping rhythms and striking synthesizer blares. With speedy vocals sampled from Kelly Charles' No Good For Me, it's features swooning, swirling breaks from a synthesizer as it continues towards its frenetic presentation. An edited version of One Love with its blaring synthesizer flourishes and wailing vocals as it's accompanied by speedy, thumping beats. Along with speedy, organ-like synthesizers, it's a track that is intense while living up to its sound away from the music of Experience.

The next three tracks are all part of a suite known as The Narcotic Suite with its exploration into drugs. The first is 3 Kilos that opens with bubbling sounds as it plays up as a swinging, mid-tempo track with funky guitar riffs, smooth beats with metallic snares, and melodic piano touches. With a frenetic keyboards solo accompanied by a swooning synthesizer and a flute by Phil Bent. Skylined opens with a shimmering, synthesizer track that warbles through along with tapping, thumping beats playing in the background. With a thumping synthesizer track and beats intensifying with layers of pulsating, tribal beats in the background. With a frenetic synthesizer background appearing, it's a track with various layers and sounds that play up to its intensity. The album closer Claustrophobic Sting opens with samples of laughter as its dominated by frenetic, intense synthesizers and pulsating, thumping beats that plays up to its speedy presentation. With wailing vocals in the background, it's intensity and performance filled with quiet vocals makes this track as a fitting closer for the entire album.

From the 2008 expanded edition of the album are nine tracks featuring live songs, B-sides, and remixes. The first two tracks come from the BBC Radio 1 Maida Vale Sessions. First is Voodoo People that features live guitars and louder beats performed live through Liam Howlett's array of samplers, synthesizers, and sequencers as it's more intense than its original recording. Notably its extended guitar breaks along with Maxim Reality's growling vocals in the middle of the song. The second track from that session is Poison which also features a metal-laden guitar track and extended instrumental breaks featuring DJ scratches and flute tracks. Next is an edited live version of Break And Enter that features more intense beats and blaring synthesizer sirens as it's a fantastic live performance. Another live cut from the Pukkelpop music festival is a live version of Their Law. The live version is just as intense and powerful with its grinding guitars and Maxim Reality singing the song's lyrics along with Keith Flint.

From the No Good (Start The Dance) single is the (Bad For You Mix) by Liam Howlett, is a frenetic, fast-paced track with pulsating beats with metallic taps along with thumping bass beats. With intense, blaring synthesizers and speedy bass lines, it's a rave track to the fullest with hardcore big beats and speedy vocals. From the Poison single is a B-side called Scienide with its grinding, warbling electronic presentation including swirling, fuzzy synthesizers and slow, clapping beats. With fast, thumping beats coming around, it's a wonderful instrumental piece with blaring synthesizers and pulsating beats that is intense and frenetic in its hardcore techno sound. From the Voodoo People CD single is Goa (The Heat The Energy) Pt. 2 which is a remix of The Heat (The Energy) with thumping big beats, flying noises, scratchy electronic textures, and spurting vocals. With its warbling synthesizers that are sped up in its performance, it's a remix that is intense.

Two tracks from the Voodoo People remix EP are two remixes with the first being Rat Poison, a remix of Poison which its remix also appeared in its single. The remix features more warbling, thumping bass lines and frenetic beats with cymbal crashes along with Maxim Reality's grunting vocals that are mixed in sputtering rhythms. Along with grinding guitars and Maxim's vocals, it's a remix that intensifies the original song in its energy and presentation. The last track of the expanded version of the album is a remix of Voodoo People by the Chemical Brothers. With Maxim's vocals playing through repeatedly, the remix is filled with swirling loops, throbbing bass lines, and smooth, thumping beats. With its bass leading the track along with vocals of the original track, it's truly one of the best remixes ever made from the Prodigy's great electronic-music rivals in reshaping one of their defining tracks.

Released in July 1994 in Britain, the album was a surprise hit reaching #1 in the U.K. while being released in the U.S. in late February of 1995. The album gave the Prodigy great exposure as it drew rave reviews along with hit singles that helped boost the electronic music scene in Britain. Around the same time, British music was going through serious changes as it indie scene became Brit-pop with a horde of electronic acts getting the same kind of exposure as bands like Oasis and Blur were at the time. The Prodigy was also gaining attention as a live act while in 1996, they played some dates at the Lollapalooza festival in the U.S. It was clear that the momentum for the band was gaining as they were set to take on their most successful project to date.

Music for the Jilted Generation is an intense, sprawling, and heavy masterpiece from the Prodigy. The album is truly one of the best electronic albums ever made with its ode to dance, techno, industrial, electro-rock, and various forms of electronic dance. Thanks in part to Liam Howlett's vision, it's an album that doesn't stray from its intensity as keeps the listener dancing and going crazy. Though the expanded version of the album doesn't offer much rarities that hardcore fans already have. It's a record that is still vital to this day as Music for the Jilted Generation is the Prodigy's greatest achievement to date.

(C) thevoid99 2011