On Mezzanine, Massive Attack tried to escape trip-hop. They nearly tore themselves apart and made its defining document instead.
Mezzanine remains the best of Massive Attack’s albums; its stresses making it resistant to the dating that has marred earlier work. It’s the dark heart of their back catalogue.

Mezzanine will be 20 years old now this April. I don't know about you but I definitely feel a bit older having typed that. Mezzanine was my gateway drug into not only Massive Attack but into alternative and electronic music in general.

Bear in mind I was in my earlier teens at the time, but Mezzanine really shook me up the first few months I listened to it and changed my opinion of what music could be. Even the visual aesthetic of the album with its dark metallic tones contrasting with the bright orange disc inside, were strangely beckoning me to listen to what was inside.

It feels real, uncontrived. In fact, it just feels, end-of-story. That’s ultimately what Mezzanine is all about, and why Massive Attack are perhaps the greatest English group of the past ten years.

So its undoubtedly for me my favourite album ever and as cliche as it sounds the album that changed my life. So in celebration of it turning 20 this year, I've written this blog post which collects together some trivia about Mezzanine along with other media (such as pictures, interview & review quotes and audio) about the making of the album.


Find Out More About Each Track On Mezzanine
01. Angel
02. Risingson
03. Teardrop
04. Inertia Creeps
05. Exchange
06. Dissolved Girl
07. Man Next Door
08. Black Milk
09. Mezzanine
10. Group Four
11. (Exchange)

So what follows is some little collected pieces of trivia and tidbits of info about the making of Mezzanine. Some of you may have heard of these before, but just in case...

  • Most of the writing and production work for Mezzanine occurred between mid-1996 to early 1998 and was split mostly between studios in London, Bristol and Cornwall. It was the last album to feature Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles, one of the founding members of Massive Attack. He would not leave the band officially until September 1999 for undisclosed artistic and personal reasons.

  • The working title for the Mezzanine album was "Damaged Goods". 3D ultimately dismissed using this title as he felt it was "too obvious". The phrase "Damaged Goods" is a reference to the Gang of Four song of the same name. Massive Attack recorded a cover version of this song during the Mezzanine sessions but ultimately it was never released.

  • The entirety of the Mezzanine album was made freely available to stream (using the now defunct Real Audio format) on the official Massive Attack website in March 1998, several weeks before release. This was the first time ever that a major label band had allowed their album to be freely streamed before release.

  • Mezzanine was also the first time that regular co-writer/producer Neil Davidge would contribute to a Massive Attack album. He first helped the band produce the Batman Forever OST track The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game in 1995 and remained as producer for the band throughout the Mezzanine sessions and further on up to Heligoland in 2010.

  • Some of the tracks that didn't make the cut for Mezzanine included Wire and Superpredators. Another track, Reflection, was produced after the album came out during the 1998 world tour, and subsequently included as a b-side on the Inertia Creeps single in September 1998. One final unused track with Elizabeth Fraser , Silent Spring, was shelved and ultimately turned up on the Collected Best Of album in 2006.

  • Mushroom and Neil Davidge created the starting point for the track that would become Teardrop. Its working title was "No Don't", and Mushroom was adamant that Madonna should be enlisted as the track's guest vocalist, with Massive Attack having worked with her previously in 1995 on the track I Want You. In the end, the band would convince Cocteau Twins songstress, Elizabeth Fraser to sing Teardrop instead. She had coincidentally just moved to the Bristol area from her native Scotland around that same time.

  • One of Mezzanine's most well known tracks, Angel, arose initially from a aborted attempt to do a cover version of The Clash's Straight To Hell. Horace Andy objected to singing the track for its use of the word "Hell". Massive Attack had already booked a 4 hour recording session at London's Olympic Studios, so were forced to improvise a new song on the spot to accommodate Horace Andy’s refusal. In the space of those 4 hours, they stripped away much of the originally prepared track, wrote a new melody around it and halved the tempo. Finally to use as lyrics for this new untitled song, they took the lyrics almost directly from Horace Andy’s own song You Are My Angel.

  • For the artwork for Mezzanine, 3D worked with graphic designer Tom Hingston to devise the unique monochrome metallic insect for the album's front cover. 3D deliberately wanted to get away from the artwork of the first two albums and use something more abrasive and confrontational in its imagery to reflect the more tense musical direction of the album. The noted music photographer Nick Knight would photograph the insect imagery of 3D and Tom Hingston.

  • Massive Attack conducted their most extensive live tour to date for promoting Mezzanine with over 100 live shows in 1998 alone. This tour marked the reinvention of Massive Attack from a DJ soundsystem collective when touring, to a proper live band complete with guitars and drums whilst on stage. Click here for more information about the Mezzanine world tour of 1998-1999.

  • Some of the most promient samples used on Mezzanine include Les McCann's "Sometime I Cry" (on Teardrop), Ultravox's Rockwrok (on Inertia Creeps), Issac Hayes's Our Day Will Come (on Exchange) and Manfred Mann's Tribute (on Black Milk). In regards to the Black Milk sample, Manfred Mann sued Massive Attack for unauthorised use of that sample in late 1998. Rather than go to court, Massive Attack opted to pay an undisclosed amount to Manfred Mann. This copyright incident prompted Massive Attack to forgo the use of sampling in their subsequent album, 100th Window, and also to rework Black Milk (sans the Manfred Mann sample) for its inclusion on their Collected Best Of album in 2006.

So to wrap up this post on Mezzanine's 20th anniversary, I've embedded below two pieces of media for you to check out. One is a Soundcloud playlist of one of Massive Attack's live shows from the Mezzanine tour, their performance at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1998. The audio quality and general performance are excellent. Its also probably the most widely circulated bootleg of Massive Attack. Of course if you go to the bootleg section of this site, you can check out many more good quality live bootlegs of the band over time.

The other embed, is a Youtube video containing an in-depth audio interview with Massive Attack recorded in early 1998 and which was released on a rare promo CD by Virgin Records. The half hour interview covers all the main topics on the recording of Mezzanine and is an interesting listen for anyone who wants to find out more about the making of the album.

I didn’t have any idea that Mezzanine would be so successful. We’d come out of Protection and there’d been a bit of criticism with the height of expectation: it was time to do something different. I wanted to take a more aggressive approach to music, to go back to the punk approach to making music, instead of looking at American hip-hop, old soul and jazz.
— Robert Del Naja
Blue Lines and Protection almost feel like they were made in London, not Bristol, and Mezzanine has that post-punk thing, has that reggae thing, has a little bit of funk, has almost a bit of jazz at times, a bit of prog-rock…it’s a real mixture of all of the influences from members of the band, and myself included, and other contributors. It really feels like that album sums up that unit of people.
— Neil Davidge

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