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Publication Date: September 1994

There’s no brewing conflict in some far off, foreign desert to deprive Massive Attack of their full moniker this time around.

Since the release of the Bristol collective’s mesmeric debut, Blue Lines, three years ago, much has changed elsewhere too. Shara Nelson, the singer whose gorgeous, aching vocal crowned that album’s finest moments (including the two timeless singles, Unfinished Sympathy and Safe From Harm), has gone on after a probably unnecessary musical divorce to limited solo success. Tripped-out rapper Tricky has also set to work recording his own mixed up musical manifesto, but not before hanging back to contribute to two tracks here. And, of course, a host of producers and artists have copied the eerie, urban, dub-soul groove carved out by Blue Lines and worked it into the mainstream.

The creative trio at the heart of Massive Attack have tried to move on from and match up to the past by consolidating and expanding. Consolidation comes in the recruitment of former Wild Bunch cohort Nellee Hooper as producer, the person responsible for shaping the early ground-breaking sound of Soul II Soul and the recent, spectacular success of Bjork. Expansion comes via the recruitment of Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn as singer on two tracks and exotic, Nigerian-born singer Nicolette for two more. Back again is veteran Jamaican reggae singer Horace Andy for his own double contribution.

Such careful eclecticism ought to bring rich and varied results. In fact, it’s only on the two tracks fronted by Tricky that the record approximates the shimmering sparkle of old. Karmacoma’s trance-like urban reggae and fluting, spaghetti-western style weirdness vies with the twisting groove and dark dramatics of Eurochild to provide the album’s best moments. Despite the booming slow-burn of the title track and the cool, quietly insistent melody of Better Things, the two songs featuring Tracey Thorn never succeed in developing a mood and identity beyond the intensely reflective, personal style established by the singer elsewhere. Nicolette could be a real find, but it’s hard to tell. Her strangely pitched, quavering vocal is let down by a couple of ordinary, anonymous, overtly filmic backing tracks.

Indeed the two purely instrumental cuts on the album sound purely incidental – music waiting for some sort of accompanying visual image to bring it to life. In their empty sophistication they epitomise the problems at the heart of an disappointing record.

Written By David Roberts