Massive Attack – ‘Heligoland’

February 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #73, February 2010.

Massive Attack
Heligoland
****
(Virgin/EMI)

To suggest that Massive Attack’s 2003 comeback, 100th Window, arrived with baggage would prove quite the understatement. The once trio’s fracture and disconnect was there for all to see in the wake of 1998’s seminal Mezzanine. Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowels walked out on the band citing creative differences, while Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall went on indefinite sabbatical, which effectively left Robert ‘3D’ del Naja the new project’s lone pilot. If 100th Window’s serviceable, nonetheless gloom-ridden tropes showed anything, it was that group’s fraught personal and creative dynamics added a hue that del Naja couldn’t capture alone. Seven years on, and with Marshall back on deck, Heligoland arrests the slide. From lurking piano phrasing and euphoric resolution of Pray For Rain (featuring TVOTR’s Tunde Adebimpe), Heligoland feels nothing if not revitalised. All the hallmarks are here – the suffocating atmospheres, the menacing subterranean tones – but this collection really shines in its unlikely counterpoints. Cuts like Splitting the Atom (with Horace Andy) shrouds an ostensibly kitsch piece of dub-pop with epic, spectral atmospheres, while Psyche sees Martina Topley-Bird morph a busy, dominating acoustic guitar lick into an unfeasibly spacious sketch. Flat of the Blade’s shuddering static anaemic vocals (courtesy of Guy Garvey) are unlike anything Massive Attack have done before. It doesn’t all work – Rush Minute and Paradise Circus prove unconvincing – but what Heligoland does is illustrate that Massive Attack have a lot more to give. This may not be their third classic, but it suggests that del Naja and Marshall have definitely got it left in them.

DAN RULE

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