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Publication Date: March 2006

In an age of iPods and mp3s, Robert Del Naja, aka 3-D, asks a pertinent question regarding Best Of compilations. ‘Aren’t they redundant? Doesn’t everyone just make their own compilations anyway?’ It’s a point that begs another question: why are Massive Attack releasing the forthcoming Collected album, then? ‘We felt we could buy ourselves some credit from the record company,’ says Del Naja with unblinking honesty, ‘but we’re making sure we give away a CD of rare material with DVD videos. It’s not a complete compromise.’

These days, Massive Attack is Del Naja and – following the departure of the third founder member Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles – Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall. While their peerless quality has rarely been in doubt, the disintegration of Bristol’s pioneering scene means they’re overshadowed by circumstances. Where, exactly, do Massive Attack fit in the postclub world? It’s partly why their last album, 100th Window, sounded strangely rudderless. At the very least, Collected rejoins the dots.

‘100th Window continued the approach we’ve had with all our albums,’ argues Del Naja. ‘And that’s to confound our audiences. We decided not to have big beats and went for delicate electronics instead. It’s no different with the new track for the compilation. Live With Me features Terry Callier and is deliberately a soul track. It shuts those up who believe we can’t replicate our first album.’

Ah yes, Blue Lines. Few albums have defined a generation of music lovers or become as timeless as Massive Attack’s 1991 debut. Set against punk-reggae aesthetics, infused by hip-hop energy and crackling with sound system grit, it steered soul-drenched influences into uncommonly edgy and existential areas. Del Naja sums it up as an album ‘made by nonmusician musicians’.
‘We had no idea how to make a record in the traditional sense,’ he recalls. ‘What it did do was capture everything around us, not just with music, but the different personalities involved. A friend said we’d captured a moment so specifically, there was no point in making another record.’ Indeed, the follow-up, Protection, took three years to make.

T oday Del Naja, 41, sounds mildly indifferent about the results, yet the emotionally windswept title track and the puppet-string shuffle of Karmacoma sound immeasurably great on Collected. Protection is overlooked in one other aspect too – it mapped out the blueprint for downbeat chillout. ‘We re-assess every record we make,’ says Del Naja. ‘It’s a mixture of personal experience and an evolving education, a constantly unorthodox approach with a curiosity about where we can go next.’

Nowhere was this truer than 1998’s hugely successful third album, Mezzanine. Introducing a studio band alongside the samples, Massive Attack lit upon on a very rarefied and singular territory indeed. A dark, dank record that morphed grainy art-rock with cavernous dub, it furnished weightless electronics with an oppressive and impressive sense of drama. ‘Performing Teardrop with Liz Frazer or Horace Andy singing Angel are probably my personal favourite Massive moments,’ Del Naja says. ‘And I think we’ve been good at communicating our best tracks in a radically different setting live, too. We’ve always been a conscious reaction against how onedimensional and frustrating hip-hop and dance gigs were in the 1980s.’ Meanwhile, Del Naja remains studio bound. Massive Attack’s fifth album, Weather Underground (for release next year), is wavering between the commercial and uncompromising. ‘We don’t want to be forced into a decision,’ he says wearily, ‘but we do have to keep our heads above water. We’re now poised between an old and new digital age and compilations like ours are almost the last of their kind.’

Written By Neil Davenport