Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com 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.
(C) thevoid99 2011