ScanS → Q Magazine Review #2

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Publication Date: April 1998

Seven years on from their seminal, trip-hop-instigating debut, and four years after the seductive, career-bolstering grooves of Protection, Grant Marshall, Robert Del Naja and Andrew Vowels (Daddy G, 3D and Mushroom to their friends) remain keepers of the hippest Bristolian flame, despite the best efforts of acolytes Portishead and Roni Size.
This return to the world of long-playing records, like Portishead’s recent offering, is remarkable for its adherence to the band’s first principles – limpid beats, loping instrumentation, smattering of distinctive guest vocalists -as it is for the odd, unexpected interludes of abrasive guitar and dub pyrotechnics.

With all but a brace of the tracks clocking in at well over five minutes, Mezzanine unravels languidly in the Massive tradition, with hooks as much textural as they are rhythmic or melodic. The atmospheric Angel, replete with distorted guitar solo and soaring vocals (courtesy of sweet-voiced long-time affiliate Horace Andy), opens proceedings in skewed dance-rock fashion before demurring to last year’s doomy Risingson single and onto the album’s first real highlight, Teardrop.

Recruiting the angelic tones of erstwhile Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser was a real coup; for her breathy glossolalia here proves an exhilarating foil for the ensemble’s piano-dappled dreamscapes, sibilant beats and cinematic string sweeps. Likewise, the orchestral samples, rubbery bass and hungover drums that introduce Exchange herald another standout passage wherein Massive Attack stretch their preferred canvas to new, almost lounge-friendly, shapes, although if this is cheesy-listening we’re talking mature dolcelate. By contrast, the tormented, sub-Beth Gibbons mewl (provided by one Sara Jay) and underwater beats of Dissolved Girl are disappointing trip-hop by numbers; while a rudimentary stab at John Holt’s reggae classic Man Next Door sounds like filler.

More rewarding is Black Milk, vaporised John Barry themes swirling around a silky groove over which Fraser essays an elegantly restrained vocal – a veritable post-rave Peggy Lee. The eight minutes-plus of Group Four signal a pleasing change of gear at least, whereby Marshall and Del Naja’s whispered rap (Eastern mysticism and martial arts feature heavily) melds swoonsomely with Fraser’s ethereal scat-singing, before tripping-out on motorik drums and primordial guitars to a shuddering Neu-meet-The-Ruts climax.

All in all, then, another admirable chapter in the Massive story, with laurels laudably un-rested upon. Sometimes it comes close to, although never attains, the dizzy heights of a masterpiece, which might just explain the title.

Written By David Sheppard