First post of 2013, and I just want to take a moment to remember the fact that 100th Window has reached its 10th anniversary this month since its initial release. So please forgive me if this post gets a bit nostalgic but I just want to share my feelings towards this album and rather or not its stands up when listening to it 10 years on. Now for some needed context...

So, the 5 (-ish) year period between Mezzanine and 100th Window, I sometimes refer to as the dark ages in Massive Attack history. There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going on with the band. What do I mean by that?

Well, Mushroom had left, finally putting to rest the rumors that he had been unhappy with his fellow bandmembers and/or the general direction Massive Attack were taking during the recording of Mezzanine.

Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja, the architects of 100th Window.
Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja, the architects of 100th Window.

There also was'nt a lot of musical output coming out in that time either. A few (in my opinion) half-hearted, lacklustre soundtrack and remix work, but nothing to get too enamoured with about (with the notable exception of I Against I).

And finally add in the rumblings that Daddy G was also on the verge of jumping ship, leaving 3D as the last man standing, with co-producer Neil Davidge being silently promoted to fulltime bandmember in his absence.

So, as I said it was an uncertain time to be a Massive Attack fan. It was also the time I became a fan in 2000. By 2002 (after listening non-stop to Blue Lines, Protection and Mezzanine for the 2 years prior), I was glued to the old Raft message board which 3D used to communicate with fans on the progress of 'LP4' (as the fans referred to it back then). That old message board was a lot more intimate affair than the Facebook page nowadays, but I suppose times move on. An archived version of that board can be found here for anyone interested in trawling through it.

3D alongside Damon Albarn and Billy Bragg protesting at a march in London, on the same week as 100th Window's release about the then eminent US-UK led invasion of Iraq. Photo Credit. Watch a news clip of this event on YouTube.
3D alongside Damon Albarn and Billy Bragg protesting at a march in London, on the same week as 100th Window's release about the then eminent US-UK led invasion of Iraq. Photo Credit. Watch a news clip of this event on YouTube.

Fast forward to Christmas 2002, and 100th Window leaked on the P2P networks of the time, nearly 2 months before its official release date the following February. I said "screw waiting" (paraphrased, of course) and downloaded the album in earnest over the holiday period. Call it a Christmas present to myself.  :lol:

So, what had the pairing of 3D and Neil Davidge come up with for an album nearly 5 years removed from the last one, however mostly put together over the first 9 months of 2002?

Well, it certainly was'nt an immediately likable or assessable album upon first listen. I've heard adjectives used to describe 100th Window such as "dense", "intricate", "reflective", and "moody" and also less flattering ones like "dull, "plodding", "cold" and "pretentious". Sometimes it can be all those things really, but what did I think of it - both at the time and now 10 years on.

Well, once I got over the initial shock of listening to a new Massive Attack album and let it set in, I was definitely pleased with what I was hearing. I had built up a picture in my mind before listening, of what I thought the album would be like (continuing on from where Mezzanine left off, in much the same way Protection had done following Blue Lines), and I have to say it kind of matched, but not in a predictable way, just in a way I know Massive Attack are capable of.

The meticulous nature of 100th Window applied not only to its music, but also its sleeve artwork photographed by Nick Knight, in one of the most expensive ever photo shoots for an album on the EMI label. Watch a video highlighting some of the 100th Window 'exploding glassman' photography on YouTube.
The meticulous nature of 100th Window applied not only to its music, but also its sleeve artwork photographed by Nick Knight, in one of the most expensive ever photo shoots for an album on the EMI label. Watch a video highlighting some of the 100th Window 'exploding glassman' photography on YouTube.

And no I don't think of it as 'Mezzanine 2.0', as many of the negative reviews insisted at the time. In the Massive Attack oeuvre, it probably does have the most in common with good old 'Mez', so maybe you could get away with calling them both sister albums, but the lazy copy argument I don't get.

The instrumentation, less focus on raw guitar and more on texture, and the more insular nature of the project as a whole, give it a different feeling altogether for better or worse. For one, it's more consistent in quality than Mezzanine throughout, even though the highs of Mezzanine eclipse the highs of 100th Window for me.

Saying that, there are still plenty of highs on this album, from the opening beeps of Future Proof, the whispered murmurings of Butterfly Caught to the provocative Middle Eastern stylings of the epic closer, Antistar.

And only recently (owing maybe to the slow-burner nature of the album), I've really started to think of What Your Soul Sings as not only being the best track on the album but also one of the best Massive tracks full-stop. It took nearly 10 years for me to really warm up to that one, but there you go.

I certainly would'nt want Massive Attack to repeat 100th Window (and neither would they want to, I'm sure), but for the time and for its place in the overall discography of the band it remains a perfect fit, for carrying on the Massive Attack tradition in the face of adversity and still going in a new direction.

But saying that, no one could deny that the overall reaction to 100th Window from both critics and fans as being decidedly "mixed", even taking into account the Metacritic score of 75/100. To represent that, I've gathered together a quick list of some of the critical reviews of 100th Window when it came out.

I tried to pick a small sample size ranging from the critics who saw it as disappointing and as just a clone of Mezzanine with little imagination, to overwhelmingly praising the album for its bold experimentation and immaculate production.

Its interesting looking back on it all. The funny thing is I remember reading all these reviews at the time. I'm sure 3D would have taken notice at the critical reaction as well, but as an artist I doubt he would want to waste much time dwelling over it, good or bad.

Still probably the most visually spectacular Massive Attack live show to date, the 100th Window tour heavily emphasized (by means of the huge L.E.D screen) the turbulent political climate in 2003 and the band's distaste for the US-UK endorsed invasion of Iraq. Watch a highlight reel of the tour on YouTube.
Still probably the most visually spectacular Massive Attack live show to date, the 100th Window tour heavily emphasized (by means of the huge L.E.D screen) the turbulent political climate in 2003 and the band's distaste for the US-UK endorsed invasion of Iraq. Watch a highlight reel of the tour on YouTube.

I'll finish off with a quick quote from Mr. Alexis Petridis of The Guardian newspaper taken from his review of 100th Window. I wanted a quote from an album review that was'nt too too hyperbolic one way or the other and I think Mr. Petridis gives a good moderate opinion that most would agree with, even though he was'nt too amazed by the album itself.

For all its flaws, it is difficult not to look upon 100th Window with respect. Del Naja’s determination to keep moving and produce music so removed from his past seems admirable, particularly at a time when most major artists choose a style and rigidly stick to it for fear of alienating their fans. Not everything here works, but at least you could never accuse Massive Attack of resting on their laurels.
— Alexis Petridis (Guardian Review - February 2003)

I think that even detractors of 100th Window would agree with Mr. Petridis that Massive Attack were trying something different with this album and playing outside their comfort zone, and you have to admire that regardless of the outcome in your estimation.

If anyone would like to add their own thoughts on 100th Window on its 10th anniversary, then please do in the comments area below.  Thanks for reading!

P.S. - Embedded below is a half hour audio interview 3D conducted in December 2002, where he goes into depth behind the whole 100th Window project. Well worth a listen.

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