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Publication Date: April 1998

MEZZANINE: that weird level, neither up nor down. The kind of dislocation you feel at four in the morning, sliding down from the previous night’s misadventures but still by no means safe from harm. The kind of feeling only one band ever properly conveyed. Massive Attack are back after four years and it feels … disturbing.
This is one of the most important bands in the UK. Flowering out of Bristol’s Wild Bunch sound system at the turn of the decade, their stoned stew of hip hop, dub and drug-infused soul foretold the chilled-out multiculturalism of Nineties youth culture.

Try to remember the optimism of 1991 without hearing their classic debut, Blue Lines. Imagine 1994 without the narcotic drift of Protection floating from open windows.
If Mezzanine is destined to represent 1998 in the same way, however, we’re in big trouble. Here is the sound of everything going wrong in slow motion. Last autumn’s single, “Risingson”, was a warning, a menacing rumble evoking, contrary to its title, bodies falling slowly through cold dark water, gliding to sleep with the fishes. Aquatic images are echoed here on “Teardrop” and “Black Milk”, both featuring new Massive singer Liz Fraser in subdued, restless form – nothing like the transcendent voice of the Cocteau Twins. Don’t expect her to surge into a euphoric chorus. She’s not Shara Nelson, and this is no time for anthems.

Likewise, Horace Andy, previously called on to provide uplifting skanks like Protection’s “Light My Fire”, now delving into profound paranoia for “Man Next Door”, using the same spooked Ivrics he once provided for Dr Alimantado’s roots classic, “Poison Flower”, an early prototype for the kind of psychotic dub Massive Attack have perfected on this third album.

But, collaborators aside, this is Massive Attack’s most personal venture yet. Gone are Blue Lines’ sense of uplifting collectivity, Protection’s coffee-table accessibility. Rappers 3D and Daddy G (aka Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall) follow former bandmate Tricky’s lead in picking away at nasty emotional cuts and bruises, 3D’s smoky whisper and G’s deep boom weaving in and out of dope-induced fear and dread. Producer Mushroom (Adrian Vowles) experiments with doomy thrash guitars (“Dissolved Girl”) and Arabic menace (“Inertia Creeps”), adding fresh layers to his uniquely cavernous sound and confirming his status as the equal of stateside rap dons like RZA and Dr Dre.

World-weary and wasted, this is the kind of album that should be kept out of direct sunlight. Wait until 4am and it all makes sense: the darkest hour is always before the dawn.

Written By Simon Lewis