Review - Massive Attack: Heligoland
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4/5Nearly seven years since the release of 100th Window, Massive Attack's Grant Marshall and Robert Del-Naja find themselves in a very different musical climate. As pioneers of the 90s trip hop scene, this record is released amidst the inevitable uncertainty as to whether there is country still for these ageing men.
A cursory glance over the case's posterior reveals heavyweight roster of guest vocalists, including turns from Damon Albarn, TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, as well as the welcome return of long-term collaborator Horace Andy. Far from being an all-star coffee table collection, however, Heligoland is a dense and obstinate affair which borrows sparsely from over two decades of existence.
A change in methodology from their earlier releases has led to an abundance of live instrumentation, chopped and melded to form the basis of these tracks. Gone are the stirring soul samples and grandiose drops, replaced instead with a much closer, invasive feel to the arrangements. This approach is especially evident in one of the album's true stand out tracks, with crisp, curt drums (courtesy of the late, great Jerry Fuchs) riding prominently in the foreground over chugging bass and the swelling harmonics of meandering, imposing synths topped by a sibilant, understated performance by Ms. Topley-Bird on 'Babel'.
One of the album's curveballs comes in the awkward lollop and menacing horns of Elbow-man Guy Garvey's contribution, 'Flat Of The Blade', coming across as a forgotten 78 played to a whirring cold war mainframe. Truth be told, it would be easy to single out every vocal contribution as sublime in its own right, but when presented as a whole body of work it does come across as marginally disjointed, were it not for the finely tuned tracklisting. Likewise, such strong collaborations overshadow Marshall's own vocal efforts somewhat, but this is testament to the strength of curation on this labour of love.
Pop hits are all but completely vacant on this fifth offering from Massive Attack, but rather than being dull or detached, Heligoland is a brooding leviathan which simply demands headphones, grasping purchase with every consecutive listen.
First published by Epigram