Massive Attack Mezzanine
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Massive Attack have been one of the most dominant forces in trip-hop music (a genre the (now) duo resent being tied to) since the early 1990s. Along side such contemporaries as Portishead and Tricky, the latter of which the band had a working relationship with on their first two albums, the band have come to define the ‘Bristol Sound’ with sample-heavy music taking influences from such genres as hip-hop and alternative rock. massive attackThe band, on their first two albums, Blue Lines and Protection took influences from dub, soul, hip-hop and electronic genres before tensions within the band grew and alternative rock influences created a rather different sound with the release of the focus of this review, Mezzanine. During the creation of the album, the band were not in consistent contact and, shortly after, founding member Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles left the band; leaving Massive Attack as a duo with Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grantley “Daddy G” Marshall as the duo they are today. It seems that some of the best music in history has been created while band tensions have been at an all-time high. Other examples include Rumors by Fleetwood Mac and The White Album by The Beatles. The band have always had a tight circle of friends that have worked with them on their music. Almost exclusively, these friends have performed vocals on songs. Mezzanine is no different. Throughout the album, guest vocals come from Horace Andy (a reggae singer who has a surprisingly androgynous voice), Elizabeth Fraser (whose vocal, at times, shares idiosyncrasies with that of Beth Gibbons of Portishead) and Sara Jay. Massive Attack, Adam CurtisOn Mezzanine, the band utilise samples from a huge range of genres (only two songs, “Group Four” and “Dissolved Girl” don’t feature samples). Taken from such bands/artists as The Velvet Underground, Ultravox, Isaac Hayes, Quincy Jones and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, samples come from such genres as progressive rock, art rock, blues, new wave and R&B and this variety makes for a greatly interesting sound that hasn’t really been effectively duplicated since (not even by Massive Attack themselves). The album is highlighted by several songs, a few of which have been used in fairly high profile visual media. “Angel”, the opening track on the album has been used to great effect in film, a significant example being the British gangster black comedy ‘Snatch’, directed by Guy Ritchie. The song has an ominous sound to it, with a slow but heavy beat, sparse guitars and sinister vocals from Horace Andy. It’s lyrical content is as minimalist in style as the guitar playing and they create a great feeling of unease. Andy sings “You are my angel / Come from way above / To bring me love” – which in a lot of music would pass as a cheesy pop lyric, but here it sounds as though it’s a melancholy feeling that Horace doesn’t want others to feel. massiveattackAnother stand-out, “Teardrop” was used as the opening and closing music for the American medical drama, ‘House M.D.’ from 2004-2012. Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal here is in stark contrast to that of much of the album as it’s a clean vocal that is nowhere near sinister – if the song’s lyrics were not of such a bleak topic, it would almost seem hopeful. The song, as a whole, is an ethereal piece that is about lost love. It’s a different theme to much of Massive Attack’s music. Interestingly, the group wanted Madonna to sing the vocal; but I for one am happy that the job came to Fraser and she accepted. Further brilliance comes with the song “Man Next Door” – a cover of a song by 60s ska/reggae band, The Paragons. It heavily features a drum loop taken from the Led Zeppelin classic, “When the Levee Breaks”. The strong, unmistakeable beat leads the song in a way that only John Bonham could. The song is in complete contrast to the original – even though it does keep some of the ska/reggae mentalities (like featuring Horace Andy on vocals). It’s electronic sounds are what set it apart from covers done by other artists (such as UB40 and Dennis Brown) as it features a sample of, the The Cure song, “10:15 Saturday Night”. As with all of the best covers, Massive Attack have really made the song their own and you wouldn’t think it was a cover as the piece fits in with the rest of the album seamlessly. One last song I will point out is “Inertia Creeps” – one of the most sinister tracks on the record. Featuring a sample of the Ultravox track, “ROckwrock” from their post-punk/new wave album Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, the song features vocals from band member 3D. While his rapped vocal isn’t as strong as the vocal parts by Tricky on their previous records, it fits very well as his style adds more to the foreboding sounds in the song. Lyrically, the song speaks of how “She comes / I make no sound in my eider-down / Awake I lie in the morning’s blue / Room is still my antenna in you”. With 3D’s vocal, the song is as creepy and inertia inducing as the name would suggest. The overall sound of the song too, with it’s looming bass and hefty percussive sounds, make it a true masterpiece of electronic music. Massive+AttackThe album, as a whole has been hailed as one of the best in the history of music (Pitchfork for example named it one of the best albums of the 1990s) and is possibly THE best trip-hop album ever. One of the band’s contemporaries, Portishead, have come close with all of their three records (Dummy, Portishead and Third), but nothing quite manages to beat Mezzanine. What is so brilliant about it is that, in it’s 63 minutes and 36 seconds, it doesn’t let up, it doesn’t get boring and the sounds present never let the listener move away from the edge of their seat. The consistently paranoia inducing sounds on the album are some of the best you’ll ever hear. The band had never made a better record – and they never have done since. There are confirmed reports that Tricky and the band are collaborating on a new record together and a return to the 90s sound of the band would be hugely welcome as the ensuing records after Mezzanine (100th Window and Heligoland) were not to the high standard as their previous records. What may be needed then, is a reunion with Andrew Vowles as he seems to have taken the band’s best sounds with him when he left. I would highly recommend Mezzanine to any music fan. I have gone through phases of not listening to it for a long time, but every time I come back to it, I’ve found it even more impressive.