Release Date: Feb 9, 2010
Record label: Virgin
Genre(s): Electronic, Trip-Hop
New, hushed direction speaks volumes Heligoland—like its 2003 predecessor, 100th Window—steers far from what Massive Attack first pioneered as trip-hop. “Pray for Rain” only catches a glimpse of light, with TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe harmonizing before sinking back into its melancholic contemplation. Brass notes resound throughout, as mournful as a Dixieland funeral.
And so Massive Attack's fifth studio album arrives, a full seven years after its predecessor. The wait automatically confers a sense of event on Heligoland, as evidenced by the fact that one Sunday paper dispatched not a music journalist but Will Self to interview the people responsible. After spending 1,000 words establishing that he's the only person in Britain who refers to Massive Attack as "the Massives", he finally let fly with the what-did-you-have-for-lunch-mate-dictionary-pudding? stuff he had presumably been employed for: "The Massives have always had a certain fissiparous approach to their work as an ensemble" and so on.
Massive Attack feel like a living, breathing vital force once again... Despite Daddy G’s return to the fold, Massive Attack are still mired in the gloom that surrounded the ‘100th Window’ album yet seem re-invigorated by a renewed soulfulness and sense of purpose. Assisted by guest singers Martina Topley-Bird, Guy Garvey and Hope Sandoval, ‘Heligoland’ fairly bristles with sustained menace and thankfully some decent tunes, from the beautiful ghostly ‘Psyche’ to the haunted skank of ‘Splitting The Atom’, while Damon Albarn’s plaintive vocal on ‘Saturday Comes Slow’ is his best work for aeons.
When, in 1991, Massive Attack briefly dropped the second bellicose half of their name to avoid offending any delicate sensibilities in the run-up to the first Gulf War, it seemed like the first time that any events beyond Bristol had intruded on the unique headspace the group had carved for themselves. Their Blue Lines album was a hazy reflection of soul and hip-hop, musical mirror images as enigmatic and elliptical as the lyrics this amorphous collection of individuals sang and rapped in ghostly voices. It sounded like nothing else around at the time, a record which hung suspended in a sphere of its own.
It’s been seven years since the last proper Massive Attack album, and those who missed the trip-hop titans should have no trouble sinking into Heligoland: Daddy G and 3D’s latest offers 10 tracks of the same eerie, art-house melodrama upon which the duo has built their rep. Honestly, it’s like they never left, and that’s both the best and worst thing about the album. Though subtly crafted from start to finish, Heligoland makes no essential addition to the Massive Attack catalogue.
Just as you can tell a lot about a person by the company he or she keeps, so the scale of a band's ambition can be gauged by their guest vocalists. On paper, then, Massive Attack's first album in seven years should mark a return to their glory days and the unparalleled Protection and Blue Lines. There are contributions from Elbow star Guy Garvey, 3D's old mucker Damon Albarn, Hope Sandoval of 90s dream pop cult act Mazzy Star and, on the opener, Pray For Rain, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe.
It’s hard to think of a band that has more epitomised the power of a collective voice than [a]Massive Attack[/a]. Born out of The Wild Bunch, the Bristol soundsystem behind the rap-reggae fusion that infamously became known throughout the world as trip-hop, Massive’s finest moments deployed collaborations with the precision of a smart bomb. Whether it was Shara Nelson’s spectacular turn on 1991’s future-soul classic ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ or Elizabeth Fraser, elfin on the frosted beauty of ‘Teardrop’ seven years later, they knew a great vocalist – and exactly how to use them.
No one would have predicted it back in 1991. In June of that year, when Massive Attack released their debut album, Blue Lines, they represented the vanguard of modern dance-based music and British pop in general. A trio of singles had established a totally fresh sound that incorporated American soul and hip-hop, dub reggae, and Burt Bacharach-style orchestration.
As trip-hop enters its third decade in existence, it drags along a trail of both detractors and promoters. With staples like Nightmares on Wax putting out mediocre (at best) attempts to relive past glory, there are still frontrunners carrying on the name of the hazy, stoned-beat tradition — namely Portishead and Massive Attack, Bristol natives who helped draw the genre’s blueprint. But they’re not without critics.
For their first three albums, you could count on Massive Attack to make music that was as intense as it was graceful. As the moods of their albums gradually transitioned from refined soul to grimy abrasion on Blue Lines, Protection, and Mezzanine, they used that balance to toy with the emotional structure of their sound. The result was some of the decade's most haunting, forward-thinking music.
Diehard fans will initially love this album, which sounds more like Massive Attack than they have for a decade. Unfortunately, "like" is the operative word. When you listen to these gloomy trip-hop jams after their best work of the 90s, the results are underwhelming. [rssbreak] They probably would have been better off focusing on new ideas and sounds, since the strongest moments on this album are the out-there oddities like the acid techno blues of Flat Of The Blade (featuring Guy Garvey) or the sombre dirge Saturday Come Slow (with vocals by Damon Albarn).
They remain one of our most fascinating, extraordinary bands. Jaime Gill 2010 Startling as this may be to thirtysomethings who grew up in prescribed awe of Massive Attack, but a whole new generation has arisen in the 12 years since their last pivotal album, Mezzanine, a generation to whom the Bristol duo are at best peripheral. So while an army of griping fans and sniping critics will argue that Heligoland doesn’t match their early triumphs, or break as much new ground, there will be younger listeners who hear it as something entirely new and recognise it for the gloomily, beguiling beauty it is.
MASSIVE ATTACK“Heligoland”(Virgin) Massive Attack is less a band than a cloud of free-floating anxiety. Its members, Robert Del Naja (or 3D) and Grant Marshall (Daddy G), are pioneers of the trip-hop that emerged from clubs in Bristol, England, in the late 1980s. (A third founder, Andy Vowles, a k a Mushroom, left in 1999.) Massive Attack worked like a reggae sound system and production team, collaborating with singers.