May 17, 2008

Massive Attack: A Retrospective

"I was lookin' back to see if you were lookin' back at me to see me lookin' back at you"

When Portishead recently released their first album in over ten years, Third, I began digging back into my catalog of what the music elite have conveniently dubbed “trip-hop.” Hatching from Bristol, England, in the beginning of the 1990s, the trip-hop movement was a revolutionizing fusion of two prevalent musical movements of the 1980s: hip-hop and British dance culture. While trip-hop eventually gave birth to sleepy, coffee-shop acts such as Thievery Corporation and banal DJ mixes from Costes, it also created inarguably some of the most interesting works of modern music. Though many cite Portishead as the landmark group of trip-hop, I always had a stronger appreciation and respect for the founders of the movement, Massive Attack. Their first and third albums, Blue Lines and Mezzanine, respectively, are easily two of the greatest musical works of the 1990s.

Blue Lines (1991)

A striking amalgam of hip-hop, dub, soul, house and jazz, Blue Lines is a startling work. The speak-song of Robert Del Naja (aka “3d”) and the tongue-twisting raps of Tricky strike a delicate balance with the more prevalent voicework of songstress Shara Nelson and reggae artist Horace Andy, creating a sublime work of contrast. As with all subsequent Massive Attack albums, the production is top-notch, sounding modern and timeless nearly two decades after its release. Standout tracks include the powerful opener “Safe from Harm,” percussive hip-hopper “Daydreaming,” and, of course, “Unfinished Sympathy,” one of the greatest singles from the 90s.

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy [Blue Lines LP, 1991]

Mezzanine (1998)

With the lukewarm reception of their second album, Protection, Massive Attack set out to break the trip-hop mold with Mezzanine, a work strikingly darker in tone then their previous works. Recruiting Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser to provide her shimmering vocals, Mezzanine absolutely shines in both production and writing. “Angel” is an opener equally as impacting as Blue Lines' “Safe from Harm,” starting with crisp drum machine beat before collapsing on itself in a wave of distorted guitars. 3D’s patented sing-song is employed perfectly on “Risingson” and “Intertia Creeps”, which are clouded in an absolute feeling of paranoia. Arguably, the album’s standout track is the stunningly beautiful “Tear Drop,” with Fraser’s angelic voice wrapped around a dusty groove and achingly beautiful harpsichord arpeggio.

Massive Attack - Tear Drop [Mezzanine LP, 1998]

No comments: