Under Review: Massive Attack – Heligoland

Given their widespread acclaim and modern legacy, you’d think that Massive Attack would be a little more productive than they have been in their 20+ years.  Over the course of their four (now five) albums, they’ve gone from heroes of menacing electronics to wallpaper-laying ‘remember them’s?’  How this fall from grace occurred isn’t really clear, and Heligoland certainly isn’t making any apologies.  Coming 7 years after the blandly-received 100th Window, Heligoland still doesn’t quite recapture the atmosphere or immediacy of Blue Lines or Mezzanine, but it’s not a complete loss, either.  A defining characteristic of Massive Attack’s albums has always been a handful of guest vocalists amongst whom the songs are distributed.  On Heligoland, the 10 tracks are shared by 9 different vocalists, which gives the album an often disjointed, inconsistent quality.  The vocalists range from TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on “Pray For Rain” to former Mazzy Star leader Hope Sandoval on “Paradise Circus.”  More so than on previous outings, the motley assemblage of bigger-name voices (Brit sensation Martina Topley-Bird and Elbow’s Guy Garvey, to name just two more) sounds like a vain attempt to cover up the mostly dull material.  Where Elizabeth Frasier’s haunting of Mezzanine gave that album an otherworldly earthiness, the myriad of guests on Heligoland makes me somehow notice that almost nothing else on the album is worth noting.  That is, until the very last track: “Atlas Air.”  The smashing, 8-minute closer is one of the most overtly upbeat songs that Massive Attack has turned out in eons and, surprisingly, features actual member Robert “3D” Del Naja on vocals.  Whether this suggests that Massive Attack are doing themselves a disservice by enlisting so many guests and wallowing in their self-constructed malaise is unclear, because it takes the unremarkable numbers that Heligoland is so saturated with to make songs like “Atlas Air” and the churning “Girl I Love You” stand out.  That second track features Horace Andy, such a mainstay in the Massive Attack circle that he’s practically an official member.  Massive Attack would do themselves good to pare things down for their next album, because Heligoland does nothing if not prove the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ theory.  Unfortunately at this rate, there’s no telling when LP6 will surface.  That’s a shame, because Heligoland is a pretty terrible way to leave us hanging.

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~ by E. on February 12, 2010.

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