Massive Attack - Heligoland - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Massive Attack - Heligoland

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2010-02-08

It been a long time coming but a new Massive Attack album is at last among us. Seven years ago, following the departure of Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall, Robert '3D' Del Naja released 100th Window, effectively a solo record, under the Massive Attack name. It's twitchy, restless, paranoid vibe left many fans feeling alienated and cemented in the public view a sad image of Massive Attack as the vanishing band, slowly disappearing one by one until there was nothing left but static and hum.

Heligoland's first track, 'Prey for Rain', goes a long way to dispelling that image. Daddy G reportedly recently said that he was going to "bring the black back" to Massive Attack. He was joking, no doubt, but 'Prey for Rain' lends credence to this. It's sleepy, twinkling groove recalls the classic Massive Attack of Blue Lines and Protection, while TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe's voice provides a top layer of creamy soul. It's a confident start to the album and can hold its own among the group's best music.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of Heligoland fails to live up to this early promise, with too many tracks drifting back into the morose fug which pervaded 100th Window and its predecessor Mezzanine. Massive Attack have a superlative track record when it comes to collaborations with female singers, from Shara Nelson on Blue Lines, through Tracey Thorn on Protection and Liz Fraser on Mezzanine, but their collaborations with of Martina Topley-Bird on Heligoland don't bring anything new to the mix. Her two tracks on the album, 'Babel' and 'Psyche', reveal an artist who hasn't moved on since her seminal 90s trip hop collaborations with Tricky, while both songs contain the album's most directionless and uninspired grooves. 'Girl I Love You' is also a poor choice for long-time collaborator Horace Andy, lacking either the sparkling beauty of 'Hymn of the Big Wheel' or the rattling paranoia of 'Spying Glass'. 'Splitting the Atom', released as a single late last year, successfully updates the fin de siècle vibe of The Specials' 'Ghost Town' with it's mentions of bail-outs for the banks, but it's about as dour and chilly as anything the group has ever made.

This forbidding atmosphere reaches it's zenith on 'Flat of the Blade', a spasming, queasy dirge full of sub-aquatic bass burbles over which Elbow front man Guy Garvey, a man with a voice like drizzly rain at the best of times, moans that "the things I have seen will haunt me to the grave". It's genuinely hard to listen to, and any casual listeners will probably give up at this point which would be a shame as hereafter Heligoland shakes off its torpor to become, if not exactly carefree, then at least lively. 'Paradise Circus' comes with a pretty melody and some trademark warm, sweet vocals from Hope Sandoval. 'Rush Minute' may ruminate on the same weed-induced inertia as much of 100th Window, but this time 3D rails against it instead of just sitting around, scratching his nuts and gazing at Cash in the Attic. Damon Albarn, often seen as all artifice and no trousers, gives a heartfelt yet careworn performance on 'Saturday Come Slow'.

It's by no means the classic that many were doubtless hoping for, but there's just enough here - just - to suggest that this old war horse has life in it yet.

Richard Morris

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