on 21 January 2004
Of all Massive Attack's releases, this is the one that took the longest for me to really appreciate. On first listening, nearly a year ago now, I was of the opinion, like many other fans and critics, that the absence of Daddy G and Mushroom laid open 'holes' in the music. The songwriting, I thought, was without the soulful, melodic beauty of Blue Lines or Mezzanine. It lacked the introspective, claustrophobic soul of Protection. The beats and production certainly were not imbued with the same dark, powerful and challenging sound that placed Mezzanine among the best records of the 1990s.
So after however many more listens I've given the album, what leads me to give it five stars?
I discovered the subtlety of the emotional (if not political) content of the songs. The melodies themselves are (mostly) more fragile, more subtle than those on Mezzanine, and Del Naja does not tie their flow tightly to the beats. He allows the two to become more separate and flow around and between each other. Silence, possibly the most neglected element in modern popular music, is used to fantastic effect to create the still, reflective mood.
The real brilliance of the music comes in the way this fragility is slowly shattered by quietly menacing riffs and skittering percussion. 100th Window's dark interior has been wrapped up in it's quiet beauty, unlike Mezzanine, where more obvious dark menace was juxtaposed with ethereal beauty. Perhaps the album art is symbolic of the music - the fragile, emotional, human glass shattered by a bullet and all captured in slow motion, freeze-frame.
Inevitably with music as eerily 'chill out' as this - music full of spaces that are only momentarily filled - the album has no 'classic tracks' like 'Unfinished Sympathy', 'Karmacoma', 'Angel' or 'Teardrop', perhaps part of the reason for its lack of critical success. Rather it is memorable for the way it plays on your emotions, and for sounding so incredibly organic yet shattered and frozen.
'Future Proof' begins with a rotating synth riff that never seems to settle into a groove, keeping the song on edge throughout. Guitar licks echo around it until the low vocals come in along with a fractured beat, '...absent friends...empty pockets...they think it's soul...' The song builds to probably the most restrained, quiet fury ever put on record. Testament to Del Naja's innovation that at the climax of the track he introduces quivering ambient drones underneath the layers of guitar.
'Special Cases' floats O'Connor's haunting, powerfully wrought vocals over a brooding bass riff. There is a strange string melody that repeats over and over again ominously and is gradually mixed with wordless vocals. It slowly gets inside your head and makes everything very still, until all the layers of the song come away suddenly leaving only reverb and rotting string bass. (Incidentally, this was initially one of my least favourite tracks)
Other highlights are the pounding beats lost in the grooveless soundscape of 'Butterfly Caught', and the minute detail of 'Small Time Shot Away'.
The album is possibly more deeply layered than any of Massive Attack's earlier work. It may be wrapped up in similar clothing to 1998's Mezzanine, but its is a much darker, earthier and emotionally rich core.
on 3 February 2003
The pattern is familiar: great new album every four years or so - always sounding different - great overall esthetic, crystal clear sound, strong graphics - an aura of mystery, of being untouchable. Pink Floyd did the same in the seventies (roughly form 'Atom heart mother' to 'the Wall'), but no-one else in the world today seems capable of providing such 'important-sounding' albums as Massive Attack. Shifting gears (as opposed to settling for cruise control) is a risky game, and for the fourth time Massive plays it for all it's worth: the result may be uneven, but for once the term 'artistic integrity' does not seem out of place.
Still, fans of past Bristol-borne masterpieces such as 'Blue lines' and 'Protection' may be in for some disappointment. Gone - apparently due to artistic differences and ego clashes among the original lineup - is all the 'blackness' that served those albums so well in terms of warmth, soulfulness, even funkyness. This one has very strong moments, but it's also a bit cold in places. it is largely Robert Del Naja -aka 3D- 's work: he used to be the only white guy in the outfit - now he _is_ Massive Attack. (Mushroom split and DaddyG apparently hasn't actively taken part in the making of this album)
Not that this need be bad news: in fact DelNaja has always had much of the creative control, some of the more amazing ideas and a really strong sense for Massive's trademark textures and soundscapes. You can really space out on this one, listen in the dark and enter another dimension - through your headset. Habitué Horace Andy and "newcomer" Sinead O'Connor deliver the vocal goods, 3D himself providing his tried-and-true cavernous murmurs. Powerful yet subtle mid-tempos prevail, with a certain gloomy, ponderous overall feel. A bit like 'mezzanine', minus the guitars, samples and sharp edges, plus a big big bag of unheard-of digital tricks. call it "post-millennium tension".
Call it "heavy chill-out".
on 10 February 2003
Five years on from the excellent Mezzanine, trip-hop trail-blazers Massive Attack return with 100th Window. Effectively, this is 3D's debut solo album in all but name, with Mushroom having bailed out in '99 (scared they were turning into a Punk band!)and Daddy G taking time out to be a father.
From the very outset it is obvious this is going to be a very different MA album. True, every MA album has been totally different in sound and feel but beneath the surface there has always been fragments of soul, dub, reggae and hip-hop...even on the dark and brooding "rocky" Mezzanine.
This time around we are treated to a much more sterile and clinical atmosphere. Gone is the looseness and organic feel of previous albums...in it's place cold electronics and precise beats. In many ways, this is MA's own Kid A.
That's not to say it's a bad album, it's not when you compare it to what else is around. But by MA's own high standards it is found wanting. If Mezzanine was claustrophobic and gritty, then 100th Window is suffocating and scrubbed clean. Too digitalized and uptight. After a while you really do start wanting to hear one of Daddy G's low-end raps. Even long serviving guest vocalist Horace Andy seems uninspired and bored. The choice of Ms O'Connor as female vocalist this time around wouldn't have been so bad if 3D had applied some quality control to her lyrics!
However, that said, with time and patience it could grow on you...just like Kid A did!!!
on 25 May 2004
This album is what I'd consider to be Massive Attack's finest, you do need to listen to it a fair bit though to get used to it....then it's just something else! Oh my word!
Don't expect to listen to this one with your friends though, it's very introspective and dark...you'll soon be able to listen to this album over and over, it's more of a feeling than anything.
It's up there with orbital - insides, prodigy - music for the jilted generation, etc.. one of the best!
Go buy it now!
on 4 February 2003
To put it quite bluntly if 18 by Moby was the follow up, or, a continuation of Play, then 100th Window does the same and more for Mezzanine.
From the opening Electronic chords of Future Proof, to the magical strings fading away on Antistar, this record never seems to let up. To be honest though what else would expect from Massive Attack, they never seem to dissapoint.
As ever, with all the records, they have chosen their female vocalist carefully, from Shara Nelson to Tracey Thorn they have gone for the haunting vocals of Sinead O'Connor on this record. I'll be the first to admit I'm not her biggest fan but her voice suits the mood perfectly. She delivers the lyrics with such emotion and utter grace that you find yourself wrapped up in this record from an early point.
Highlights, although exceptionally hard to pick would be Future Proof, Smalltime Shot Away, The fantistic lyrics on Prayer for England and the sizzling strings on Antistar.
At first listen I wasn't sure what to expect and I must admit I did feel quite dissapointed. It was very sameish as Mezzanine, I expected them to move on as they had done on previous albums, as the album continued it did grow on me, and in a big way.
Fans of Mezzanine will love it, it's just as dark, if not darker, just as chilling, perfect evening listening. It's nowhere near as friendly as Blue Lines or Protection, people will turn their noses up at it which is a shame. It really is a fantastic record with variation that is hard to pick up, but is there all the same.
As long as you enjoyed Mezzanine you'll enjoy this, and Sinead fans will love it, she brings a whole new dimension to the record.
on 2 March 2003
I too was expecting this album to have evolved in the same way as Mezzanine did, and was a bit disappointed to see that it hadn't. But does that make it a bad album? Of course it doesn't. Anyway it is different from Mezzanine, though the mood of the album (quite dark) is similar, and What Your Soul Sings sounds a bit like Teardrop (the beat). I would also have liked to see more diversity on the album, it seems Massive Attack have been afraid to experiment (and they did have plenty of time to try).
Bat that's the worst I can say about this album. I liked it from the start and, after two weeks continuous listening, it's growing on me more and more. This is very much distinctively Massive Attack and, if you're a fan, is a must buy. If you like the Mezzanine sound you will probably like 100th Window.
It should be said that there are no songs on this album to match the greats on Mezzanine (Teardrop, Black Milk, Mezzanine and Group Four) but, and this is the important thing, there are no bad tracks on the album. And how many times can you say that about an album? The tracks are bassy throughout with some excellent beats. I'm surprised at the stick Sinead O'Connor is getting because her voice compliments the Massive Attack sound brilliantly. All tracks on this album average about four stars, whereas I think Mezzanine has a few fives and several (skipable) threes.
OK, it would be nice to have the likes Daddy G and Shara Nelson (to retain that soul that people have said is missing - fair enough) but the band have moved on and Del Naja's vocals are good enough. The two Horace Andy tracks are mellow and at first I wasn't that keen but they provide a nice contrast to the rest of the album, Name Taken is an especially cool chill-out track.
The tracks that stand out for me are Future Proof, a great tune to kick off the album with, the dark but moving and goosebump-inducing Special Cases, and Butterfly Caught, the heaviest track with a bit of a techno sound. The others aren't far behind.
This is dark music, but it is not depressing, as someone has said. People who say music like this (and Radiohead's music) is depressing don't understand or appreciate this type of music and should be listening to something completely different.
You'll need a good system to fully appreciate this sound, and if you've got speakers that have a tendency to vibrate with lots of bass, you might want to get those sorted out.
on 14 February 2003
An album that varies little in content to those tracks on Mezzanine that 3-D dominated.
Massive Attack were synonymous with evolving with each new album; whilst the following release might not have been an improvement on the previous it was unique, a distinct and welcome departure from what went before it.
100th Window however breaks the mould.
At best, it sounds like a collection of songs that were not really good enough for Mezzanine but could have easily been recorded during the same sessions.
The lack of an alternate influence strong enough to guide and challenge 3-D, (such as a Shara Nelson, a Tricky, a Mushroom or a Liz Fraser), seems to have left Massive Attack without any sense of genuine direction. Each track seems to wander to its conclusion.
Through out the album, there is a distinct lack of 'soul'. With previous releases Massive Attack managed to add an extra depth to songs through the strength and the quality of the vocals, 100th Window cannot boast any such similar traits. In fact, Massive Attack have been let down badly by a really third rate vocalist in the shape of Sinead O'Connor, (what on earth possessed them to choose her?).
There are no "Teardrop", "Unfinished Sympathy" or "Protection"-style, goose-bump inducing, stormers on this album. It plods along at a steady rate of knots, never getting above a moderate trot, never mind canter.
Even the tracks that Horace Andy sings on cannot be rescued by his reliably impressive vocals; they can only ever be described as 'adequate', though this is hardly his fault.
100th window cannot be described as bad, but equally it cannot be described as being good either.
Fans of previous releases should approach with caution and not set expectations too high.
on 14 February 2003
The strength of this album lies in the fact that Massive attack have not given into pop pressure.It is more serious than that and more suited to the modern ear.
Sweeter sounding than Mezzanine.Gone also are the days of Blue lines - that may be classic stuff -I love it- but it is now history.My only regret is that Liz Frazers beautiful voice is missing.
I predict this album will attract as many new fans as others loose pace and drop away.
More strong tracks than weak ones - and that is unusual these days.
Mezzanine was phenomenal. One of the finest records ever written, produced and released. Only an hyper-optimist would expect Massive Attack (minus one-member and one on sabbatical) to come back with an album just as good. But it's been five years and Robert Del Naja has had time to become inspired and capture the complex arrangement of moods and emotion that gripped Mezzanine.
So what's the result? How does 100th Window do? Hey, it's not bad. There's nine tracks and a ten minute or so peice of abstract untitled music at the end, which is a nice thoughtful gesture by 3-D. However, pleasant enough as it is, the abstract music doesn't really get beyond soundng more than a Fluke/Underworld demo but it's the thought that counts.
Sinead O'Conner appears a few times and although technically she does well, her voice lacks that transcendental and spine-chilling feel that you had with Liz Frazer on Mezzanine. Besides, you can't help but think of Pope-bashing and political warblings when listening to the Sinead tracks (e.g. A Prayer for England and Special Cases) and it was politics that was so pleasantly missing on Mezzanine.
Yet with Massive Attack, you're guaranteed a few genuine gems and you find them in Small Time Shot Away and Everywhen. The vocals on both tracks (courtesy of 3-D himself and Andy Horace respectively) are soothing and float wonderfully on bed of sexy basslines and slow-burning beats. Butterfly Caught is hypnotic in the traditonal Massive Attack way whilst Antistar - the last track - is more darker but in no way as scary and paranoid as Group Four on Mezzanine. A slight shame.
Name Taken (track eight) sounds very much like a Protection track and is the only real disappointment. On the whole, don't expect Mezzanine standards but there's ample evidence of genius on here and there will be plenty of occasions when vocals, lyrics, beats and riffs will both haunt and please you. Defintely worth buying and listening to again and again...
on 1 April 2015
When I first heard this I was a little shocked as it was sooo grungy and edgy that I almost got annoyed, and then magic happened. I was stoned and chilling on my bed with my lights off and I wacked this on. It made sense. I love trippy twisted sounds anyway so this just worked for me and works every time now. Some may find it depressing but to me thats only if you like pop music. I don't however, I like to be moved, vunerable, and question things in life and so this kind of sound works beautifully. If you like this yoh may like KID A by Radiohead and Amnesiac. Well, I know I favour all of these as my tastes are non-conventional and less obvious and with these kinds of sounds it helps you to move into another realm one in which we rarely experience in the fast paced world of stress and money. Take an hour to absorb this and you may think differently afterwards.