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Publication Date: October 1994

Three years after the ground-breaking club/dub/soul melting-pot tour-de-force of Blue Lines, Massive Attack are back, minus the stirring lead vocal ofShara Nelson and opting for a more idiosyncratic approach as a result. If a central focus has always been the H problem for the Bristol conglomerate when it comes to mass fl appeal, Protection is unlikely to provide the solution. Exploring spacey terrains, departing on weird hallucinatory spirals and grappling with various degrees of emotional fall-out, commercial favour is not—despite the curious name change during the Gulf War—their prime concern.

And more power to them—the boho dub axis that runs from Bristol to Notting Hill and includes acts as various as Rip Rig And Panic, On-U Sound, The Pop Group, Soul II Soul, The Raincoats and, currently, Portishead, has produced some of the most potent British music over the past 15 years and much of Protection is a worthy addition to it.
The first of three guest singers, Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn has seldom been placed in a more entrancing or beguiling setting than on the title track and ‘Better Things’, even if she is still hung up on ersatz bedsit jazz manoeuvres.

The Thorn tracks are indicative of the unsettling, intimate approach the Massive crew have opted for (heard to best effect on two instrumental soundtracks for unmade movies ‘Weather Storm’ and ‘Heat Miser’ and on ‘Sly’ and ‘Three’). The latter tracks feature the high-flying presence of Nigerian-born singer Nicolette and adopt a backing track of loops and samples slowed down to bask in her furtive, sensual glow.

Reggae favourite Horace Andy is on form for a rework of his own ‘Spying Glass’, but his closing live version of ‘Light My Fire’ fails to capture the heat of the dancehall. Tricky, whose solo album is imminent, remains the strangest and most inscrutable fish in the MA pond, his ‘Karmacoma’ the weirdest thing on a weirdly disparate record. Not perhaps a full-scale victory to outshine the triumph of Blue Lines, but Protection is courageous, intriguing and inventive all the same.

Written By Gavin Martin