ScanS → Vox Magazine Review #2

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Publication Date: May 1998

In the case of a band as emphatically workshy as Massive Attack, it’s little wonder rumours arise in the spaces new releases would otherwise occupy. In the four-year wait for a follow-up to ‘Protection’ (OK, ‘No Protection’ came out in 1995 but that was just a remix album, albeit a very good one), the talk has centred on heavy music echoing similarly heavy goings-on within this camp; of wired sounds detailing the frayed mindset of its creators.
Gossip, eh? Time to press play and discover the truth…

…Boasting the blessed voice of long-time Massive collaborator, Horace Andy, opener ‘Angel’ begins as deep-set modern dub, but soon a welter of viscous guitar lines penetrate the throbbing
backdrop. Storm clouds aren’t so much gathering overhead as swirling malevolently at eye-level. Those who crave temperate, stoner-approved sounds are thereby advised to evacuate the area. The rumour-mongers, meanwhile, can afford the countenance of the super smug.

Regularly on ‘Mezzanine’ it’s as if the Bristolians have reciprocated Radiohead’s oft-spoken of and musically apparent respect for them by deploying live guitars, bass and drums to craft ‘dance’s arguably superior answer to ‘OK Computer’. Also dominant is the sense of ‘Cool Britannia’ being dealt a terminal blow. Their penchant for paranoia and alienation is acutely evident, creating an image of an untrusting, unforgiving UK, consisting of multitudinous surveillance cameras, dismal housing, burnt-out relationships and grimly ominous portents. While there’s much of this sombre fare around at present, precious little comes with even a nuance of the arch talent displayed here.

Certainly not that laid out on second track, ‘Risingson’, on which Daddy G and 3-D pull off a fearsome rap double-act. Originally out last year as a limited-edition single, it’s surely one of the most fantastically evil missives ever made, to the point where, if Dr John was at his peak today, wielding slo-mo rave riffs and suffocating atmospheres, he’d be eminently chuffed with this.
‘Mezzanine’adopts a lesssingle-mindedly brooding course thereafter, not least because the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Frazer lends her reliably lavish tones to a number of tracks. On the forthcoming single, ‘Teardrop’, she tilts the album’s temperament from that of the emotionally shattered and hideously possessed to more hopeful environs in a manner that’s perfectly shaped if slightly odd-sounding in such close proximity to the record’s sonic dark side. And, despite the bizarrely ‘easy’ instrumental, ‘Exchange’, and the good-natured grooving of ‘Black Milk’, that side is never far away.

With unswervingly fine vocals provided by the aforementioned foursome’s ever-changing tag team, plus Sara Jay (who toured with Massive last year), tracks like ‘Inertia Creeps’ (archetypal shadowy Massive Attack), ‘Group Four’ (gothic funk), ‘Dissolved Girl’ (huge grunge riffs and shuddering rhythms) confirm that, on the tenth anniversary of their inception, this band have cutone of the most gloriously disturbed soul albums in history-thus one that’s every bit as good as their epochal debut.

Expect few traces of either ‘Blue Lines’s hip-hop-informed clarity or ‘Protection’s luscious melodies, however. Instead, luxuriate in myriad evidence of Massive Attack’s undiminished degree of creative thinking; that of a band supremely adept at tackling the new without trashing everything their venerable name was built on. Oh, and by the way, if on first listening to this you think it tails off a little midway through, live with it a while and you’ll be thinking nothing of the sort.

“Passion’s overrated anyway’ mourns Sara Jay on ‘Dissolved Girl’. Whatever Massive Attack have found as a replacement, it works with frightening potency on ‘Mezzanine’.

Written By Andy Crysell