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

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