Massive Attack - Heligoland

2010-02-23 11:26

But the wait (it's been seven years since 100th Window) has served the band well. There was little to endear 100th Window – it sounded like a band that’d run out of ideas, and was that unheard of thing for Massive Attack – cold. Making Heligoland something of a miracle, in that it's so assured, so warm, so persistent… that it exists at all.

There's still something of the old Massive Attack about it. There's that omnipresent darkness, that's always one beat away from swallowing you whole. And the presence of reggae singer and long-time collaborator Horace Andy feels like we're back in familiar territory. The handclaps (which appear more than once on the album) and plodding beats of "Splitting the Atom" take the song through a strange journey that starts off with warbly synths before morphing into an unsettling dirge, with Marshall's doom-laden vocals playing bad cop to the softer, sweeter interplay from Del Naja and Andy.

It's not exactly pop, but it's as beguiling as you're likely to get from these pioneering trip-hoppers. There's an unmistakable voodoo energy working its way through Heligoland. From the jittery percussion and lyrics about being conjured as a child of "Psyche" (sung by Martina Topley-Bird), to the propulsive bassline and, frankly, scary horns on "Girl I Love You", Heligoland is never the same album on repeated listens. It's hard not to make comparisons with Radiohead, with both bands sharing that fascination with how sound can be both transporting and transformative. Maybe that OK Computer remix album will happen after all?

Usually an album featuring this many guest vocalists (Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, Damon Albarn, Elbow's Guy Garvey) would seem like an attempt to be relevant, or give the record company something with which to market it. But just listening to Sandoval seduce the prettiness into "Paradise Circus" (there are those handclaps again) and a mellow Adebimpe on "Pray for Rain" shows how much of a collaborative project this really is.

Prime amongst these guest tracks are "Saturday Come Slow", with an aching vocal by Blur's Damion Albarn, and a genuinely terrified Guy Garvey on "Flat Of The Blade". While none of these collaborations will quite reach the level of marketability as those with Liz Fraser, Shara Nelson and Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn, this is hardly a liability. This is an album proper and more than the sum of its parts.

Heligoland is worth celebrating. It's designed to mystify, bewitch and never let you go. And it might be the last time we hear from Massive Attack for another decade.

It's hard work being a Massive Attack fan. There's the constant fear that they will never make another album again, the endless reports of in-fighting and acrimony between Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant "G" Marshall (they already lost Andy "Mushroom" Vowles just after the release of their third album, Mezzanine) and the long, tense wait between releases just doesn’t help the nerves to settle.

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