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Publication Date: June 2008

Directing the 15th Meltdown is Massive Attack’s biggest burst of activity in years, and one that paves the way for the album expected in 2009. The trip-hop titans’ main intention was not to one-up previous directors such as Jarvis Cocker and Patti Smith but simply, as leader Robert “3D” Del Naja has said, “not to be the first to fuck it up”. A modest enough aim, but with a couple of their choices, they are sailing close to the wind: second-tier 70s punks Stiff Little Fingers and four “silent disco” novelty nights, anyone?

But their stint will probably be better remembered for enticing proto-synth-poppers Yellow Magic Orchestra to play Britain for the first time since 1980, and booking-of-the-moment Seattleites Fleet Foxes. Forty-year-old acid rockers Gong contribute, too, and there is a night of modish dubstep. No one genre prevails, but the lineup reflects Massive’s no-boundaries tastes.

As for their own festival-opening show, Del Naja tells the audience that it’s an “experiment, which is make it up as you go along, basically”. But the man is being disingenuous. The impressive visuals (a dot matrix screen that generates jagged red bolts of light and words while the stage remains dusky) and crack backing group are evidence of thought having gone into this. They have also bagged the striking American folkie Stephanie Dosen as ethereal backing singer, and for their part, Del Naja and co-leader Grant Marshall are as sharp as tacks when the time comes to menacingly whisper their vocals. The trick is to make it seem as if the entire company are moments from collapsing into a stoned heap when they are actually on snappy, sparky form.

They are ushered on by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, whc fits a reference to George Bush into his introduction. Politics resurface at the end, with Inertia Creeps and new tune Marakesh dominated by messages on the screen (“42 days — worse to come”), but between the two is 90 minutes of narcotic meandering.

Songs from the new album are debuted: Marooned is dubby and lovelorn, and All I Want sounds like a dark and stormy riight, with bass pulsing thunderously and soul singer Yolanda creaking and sighing. They fit seamlessly alongside Teardrop — through which Dosen tiptoes while percussion rattles like a truck driving over corrugated iron — and an encore of Unfinished Sympathy, which retain; its string-driven ferocity. Massive Attack still have it going on, and their return is a welcome one.

Written By Caroline Sullivan