ScanS → NME Magazine Review #4
Publication Date: Feburary 2003
Of all the advice given to reviewers, the most chilling is that “you really need to live with this album for a while”. When that advice comes with the caveat that it should also initially be listened to only on headphones, one really fears for the event ahead.
So it goes with Massive Attack’s fourth studio album. ‘100th Window’ opens onto a Massive landscape shorn of two of its three originators, Mushroom (left in a huff after the bickering that accompanied their last effort, 1998’s ‘Mezzanine’) and Daddy G (Grant Gee – off on a child-rearing sabbatical). Thus it’s left to Robert Del Naja, aka 3-D, to corral the various guest wagons round the dimly flickering flame of the Massive Attack camp. In effect, this is his solo album. And it sounds like it.
Mushroom brought the magpie mentality of a DJ at a Bristol blues party to Massive. Daddy G brings red-eyed baritone bass. 3-D raises an eyebrow, whispers poetic paranoia and turns the refrigerator hum up to full. With all three working in tandem and with a well-balanced crew of visiting musical ambassadors in tow, Massive were Britain’s most inventive and rewarding dance act, as evidenced by their landmark 1991 debut ‘Blue Lines’. This time Del Naja is on his own and seemingly adrift without his partners to anchor him down with tunes.
This is not a bad album, just a Door Massive album. To help earn such faint praise, Del Naja has Sinead O’Connor lending her strident vocals to three songs, as well as reggae legend Horace Andy once again weighing in with two contributions. Del Naja handles the other vocal chores (correct wording, here) himself and shares the songwriting with producer Neil Davidge. Extra musical muscle is provided by former members of the Spiritualized family, Lupine Howl. Collectively, the plan was to make a warmer album than the icy but mighty ‘Mezzanine’. The opposite has occurred.
This is Massive Lite, an album that manages neither the barnstorming, blue soul of their early glories nor the crushing metallic precision of ‘Mezzanine’. That’s simply because it has the quality of song of neither. The sound is, as ever, immaculate and there are washes of magnificent ambience, characterised in particular by the Eastern strings that usher out both ‘Antistar’ and the album.
But while Sinead breathes life into the ‘Teardrop’-ish ‘What Your Soul Sings’ and 3-D’s menacing mutter through ‘Small Time Shot Away”s mellow ennui has much to recommend it, too much of ‘100th Window’ passes by without a memorable song threatening to break the waves of moody unease. Even Sinead’s forthright anti-child abuse lyric for ‘A Prayer For England’ is disguised by a lack of tuneful ballast to go with it.
A new Massive Attack album is threatened for next year. It is fervently hoped that it will usher in a new era and back-to-basics approach. Time to close the fridge door, D.
Blue Lines (1991) – Massive Attack’s masterpiece, and arguably the best British best dance album ever. ‘Blue Lines’ filtered US hip-hop through the frosted lens of underground Bristolian dance culture, taking in reggae, rare groove and a post-punk eclecticism en route. A soul album with heart, wit and genuine tortured soul.
Protection (1994) – It was impossible for Massive to top ‘Blue Lines’, but ‘Protection’ did keep Massive miles ahead of all the imitators their debut had influenced, even if that meant a tendency to slip into muzak here and there. Outstanding vocal contributions from Tricky, Nicolette and Tracey Thorn, along with a richly mystical sound, shone through nonetheless.
No Protection (1995) – Mindful, perhaps, that ‘Protection’ slipped occasionally into easy listening, Massive handed the tapes over to veteran UK dub producer Mad Professor for a radical overhaul. The remix did the trick, giving the ly album a rougher, heavier outlook Mhi and propelling thelHHB band back towards the avant-garde.
Mezzanine (1998) – ‘Mezzanine’ advanced the Massive Attack story by introducing guitars and an eerie, cold atmosphere to the mix. Peerless production and vital vocals from guests Liz Fraser and Horace Andy elevated this collection way beyond the work of their peers.
Written By Ted Kessler