Massive Attack

Virgin Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


After Protection was released in 1994, the state of Massive Attack was iffy at best. After making the revolutionary album, Blue Lines, the "trip hop" pioneers released a good album, but wasn't as well received as their debut. And since 1994, the line-up of the band has changed-although the three core members, Mushroom, 3-D and Daddy G still control the helm.

With Protection, Massive Attack recruited the talents of Tracey Thorn, from Everything But the Girl. With Mezzanine, the female vocalist of choice is the Cocteau Twin's Elizabeth Fraser. In 1994, Massive Attack had few peers in the genre of electronica. Since 1994, two huge talents, Portishead and Tricky, have emerged. It looked like Massive Attack had to settle for being pioneers in the early '90s and potential relics in the last half of this decade.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But something happened. Mezzanine came out in June of this year. And while many people thought the best Massive Attack could do was release albums that could hold a candle to Tricky and Portishead's latest works, Massive Attack releases an album that sets the bar higher for both bands.

Lumping those three bands into one category is unfair, however. As a group, Massive Attack deserve to be judged on its own merits. And Mezzanine is beginning to sound like one of the only albums to come out this year that could be a potential classic. The first time you listen to it, it's hard not to take it as anything but background music, unless you've had enough wine in your system and are really immobile. Not that the album is boring, it's just that it's a very atmospheric album. You feel like you should be reading or doing something (fill in your pleasure task) while the album is playing.

Listen after listen, however, and Mezzanine begins to sink in and infect the listener. The beautiful "Teardrop" is perhaps the most lovely ballad released this year. But right after, a menacing gangsta beat ushers in "Inertia Creeps". The claustrophobic feel of the album, which fits the title of the album to a 'T' is hard to explain. Most of the beats are slowed down, creating a trance-like effect. Elizabeth Fraser's vocals are soothing, almost diva-like throghout the album, but it still by no means makes Mezzanine feel like easy listening.

Like Tricky (yeah, I know, I said I hated to lump the artists together, but this is a valid parallel), Massive Attack works best when a female vocalist is crooning. The vocals on "Man Next Door" sound unintentionally like Faith No More's Mike Patton. That makes the next song, "Black Milk" all the more appealing as Fraser comes back into the picture.

Like OK Computer last year, Mezzanine has the feel of an album that could not only stand the time as a great piece of work, but as a work that is actually going to influence other musicians. You don't know the extent of how Mezzanine will influence other musicians, but you have a gut feeling that it somehow will have a great effect. That judgement won't be known for a couple of years. Until then, let Mezzanine settle into your system. It's an aural trip unlike any other this year.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.