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Publication Date: October 1994

You’ve probably heard of British Standard Time. But what about the Bristol version?
It’s a good deal slower than that operating in the rest of this country. And judging by the recording career of the former Five Man Army, the clocks at Massive Attack Towers are definitely set to the latter… ‘Blue Lines’ was a slow-motion masterpiece, a soundtrack to monochrome footage of late-night parties, 3am drives into the country and sunrises over inner-city tower blocks. Fuelled by industrial-strength weed, a love of vintage Studio One dub plates and Shara Nelson’s take on ’90s soul diva-dom, Massive Attack’s debut mapped out a vital heartbeat-paced alternative for those unattracted by the delights of ecstasy-fuelled hedonism.

But four years on, and minus la Nelson’s voice, can Bristol’s favourite somnambulists pull it off again? The answer is a resounding yes. From the moment Tracey Thorn’s voice -an inspired recruitment-floats in over the stripped-down beat and patented Wild Bunch time-lapse scratches of the opening title track, it’s apparent that Massive’s ability to do funny things to the nerves on your scalp is undiminished.

Rather than cause problems, Nelson’s departure has given the Massive Attack posse a more rounded feel. Each vocalist contributes to two tracks, giving ‘Protection’ the sort of inner harmony that Buddhists spend a lifetime searching for. Female vocals are split between Thorn and the other-worldly voice of Nicolette (who could make ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ sound like an outtake from the soundtrack to Eraserhead).

Following on from the first LP’s ‘Be Thankful For What You’ve Got’, reggae don Horace Andy lets loose over a rough drum, trumpet and gunshot version of The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’. This relocates Jim Morrison to the dancehalls of downtown Kingston, while 3D and Tricky Kid combine whispered raps about God knows what, to unsettling effect. When, on ‘Eurochild’, Tricky murmurs “reduce me, seduce me, dress me up in Stussy”, it’s like that last hit on his spliff has turned the friendly stranger you’ve been talking to all night into Damien Omen: Rap Star.

On ‘Protection’ the filmic sense of urban dislocation that haunted tracks like ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and ‘Daydreaming’ has been refined and polished. This gives the LP a core of unease which, despite all the sweeping ballads and whispered vocals, keeps everything balanced on a knife-edge. Massive Attack make music unlike anyone else. Not an easy thing to do, but one for which we should all be eternally grateful.

Written By Matt Hall