on 18 June 2012
After 4 full length albums spanning back to the late eighties, Trip-Hop Bristol duo Massive Attack have gathered 13 songs from across all their albums (at least 3 from each) along with one unreleased song to finish the MA Collection. The music is largely a mix of electronica, rap and experimental tunes and (at least with me) needs to be listened to at the appropriate time such as late at night when its dark or played in the background as it makes for a good ambience setting. With numerous vocal guest performances (and their own lyrical workings) 'Collected' is like a mix-tape of songs that span over 15 years.
The sound of a ghostly air swirling around initiates the beginning of 'Safe From Harm'. The first song on 'Collected' as well as on debut album 'Blue Lines' from 1991, its a bass driven, shifting downbeat funk track. "But if you hurt whats mine I'll sure as hell retaliate" is part of the overprotective vibe to the bridge, sang by a resurgent Shara Nelson. Swift rhymes cut in now and then by '3D' or Robert Del Naja, along with distorted, twanging jazz guitar pull-offs. "You can free the world, you can free my mind, just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight" proves to be a less ambitious chorus but a more memorable sing along with backing vocals and an easier tempo and pitch to follow. The track oozes soul and is laid back personified. 'Karmacoma' however is not the best follow up. From the difficult 1994 second album 'Protection', 3D is delegated to singing duties and hardly breaks out of a whispering mumble whilst twitching tribal noises contort and shape around a jungle like rhythm. "I must be crazy, see I'm Swayze" just acts as a rhyming point for other words trundling along to the now deteriorating drum pattern. After a good 5 minutes of marijuana smoke clearing tunes the track comes to a hazed end, fading out into the background. No.3 though is a welcome change of pace. In-keeping with the continuous track numbering (from debut album to the next), 'Angel' from the sinister 99' third album 'Mezzanine' is the epiphany the band needed, departing with the R&B undertones and introducing a dark, grunge sound that has been labelled 'Trip-Hop'. Like the first song, its focal point is a super low bass line, until sharp clicks and clacks interrupt and industrial screeches build up a menacing atmosphere. "You are my angel.. Come from way above, to bring me love" is the simplistically vivid, mantra that is sang by a possessed Horace Andy. "Her eyes, she's on the dark side.. neutralise every man in sight.." an echoing single note from a guitar repeats and feedback rises - "to love you, love you, love you" - bam the drums smash into life and a guitar in overdrive crunches out some haggard out of tune chords for one intense interlude. For me, this song was the turning point for MA as the urban slang rap took a backseat as the brooding, metal inspiration took the wheel - the song bares its teeth like a cornered wild animal.
More people are aware of the song 'Teardrop' than they are of its creators thanks to several televised appearances on various channel dramas and even a video game advert for 'Assassins Creed'. People are often mistaken as to whom it originally belongs to with so many other artists choosing to cover it with their own styles (none of which come close in my opinion). The reason why is because it has to be the most catchiest song thanks to such a simple 4-note backbone-beat which is played throughout. The intro is a class act with the sound of a vinyl record spinning and its distinct cracking sound, then the strings of what sounds like a sitar picking out a handful of notes. But it is Elizabeth Fraser who makes it go one further with a heavenly, breathy vocal performance. "Teardrop on the fire, fearless on my breath" has to be one of the most memorable chorus' ever recorded. The melody in which Fraser sings just glides sporadicly and as such, there is no sense of a structure, just free-flowing along without interruption. The instrumentation behind her is a quality match too with rising choirs and heavy, drawn out piano chords. "You're tumbling down" is a haunting echo and abrupt last line to a beautiful song as the music slowly backs away and returns to how it all started. For the 3rd track in a row, plays another from 'Mezzanine' - 'Inertia Creeps' - as black as night and full of abstract instrument combinations. An almost Turkish string instrument occasionally cries out and synthetic sounds mimicking a didgeridoo. Its tracks like this that 3D's vocal style matches perfectly.
Back on album and title track 'Protection' and a return to much calmer, melodic pop sound thanks to some more stunning singing, this time from Tracey Thorn (from Everything but the Girl). This lady has one of those voices that sounds unlike any other - its silky and clear but somehow raw and realistic with an original style unlike all these Christina Aguilera or Beyonce wannabes that sound exactly the same - like shouting wenches. "I'll stand in front of you and take the force of the blow, protection. You're a girl and I'm a boy" is a surprisingly fresh approach to a chorus with a role reversal whilst telling a romantic story. Because of the spotlight vocals, the music is a quaint little number of shaking drums, low bass, wandering piano keys and the ever appropriate twang of a jazzy guitar with whammy bar. At 7 and a half minutes long its the lengthiest of the bunch and somehow, never a bother. Eventually it just fades out with a calming beat and the soothing sound of heavy rainfall - one of the best tracks on 'Collected' and easily the no.1 song on its respective album. Not even halfway through and 35 minutes have breezed by when an equally long 'Butterfly Caught' takes its time to find its way. The humming of 3D chills you to the bone for a good minute until the techno drum and bass kick in the first single from '100th Window' and sounds just as murky as those found on 'Mezzanine'. "Nearly worn.. Kneeling like a supplicant.. Darkened skin.. Afraid to see. Radiate, Open lips.. Keep smiling for me" sounds more like abstract poetry than lyrical content but it matches the glitchy sound of drug addled song. There are more foreign instruments chirping in and out like an asian alternative to the cello, sounding rather Egyptian with creepy violins and all. Again over 7 minutes and still keeping pace.
Back to the first album again for 'Unfinished Sympathy' - the second single from 'Blue Lines' sang by a soulful Nelson again. This one is a mixture of expense and tradition with the rich string section hovering over the lyrics and grand piano appearing, whilst there is the nonstop clicks and clacks of cutlery and bewildering moans and a countdown to the song. Some really fantastically heartfelt lyrics going on here too with "Really hurt me baby, really cut me baby.. How can you have a day without a night? You're the book that I have opened.. And now I've got to know much more" and "The curiousness of your potential kiss - Has got my mind and body aching". The most soulful bit of music on the album that deserves its place. The closing lines of "Like a soul without a mind, in a body without a heart, I'm missing every part" is an apt end to one classy song. The return of 'Mezzanine' comes in the shape of 'RisingSon' (a personal favourite of mine back in the college days) Again its a bass fueled romp that strolls through for 5 minutes. Its essentially a rap with two members of the band spitting out rhymes back and fourth (3D & Grant Marshall) until a breakdown and delightful electronic grinding of an unknown synth effect. I won't even try to decipher lyrics like "Automatic crystal remote control, they come to move your soul" and "Like a man slide inside you my dear, your cheap beer's filled with crocodile tears" because frankly it sounds like the Bristol trio have been smoking some seriously strong ganja.
'What Your Soul Sings' is an odd addition to a compilation album as its one of the average numbers on '100th Window'. Although when recalling that album you realise it isn't the most stable record anyway. Sinéad O'Connor does a grand job with dreamy vocals against the grain of the harsh spinning digital dodginess circling around her. The best lyric being "The things that bring you down, only do harm to you.. and so make your choice joy for joy belongs to you.. And when you do- You'll find the one you love is you.. You'll find you, Love you- " - executed perfectly. Another '100th Window' track in 'Future Proof' this time more predictable is the first one on the list. Sang by 3D with spacey blips and halting guitar licks its an etherial bit of madness. After a couple of dogged verses, an interlude pops up with an abundance of sounds and instruments merging into an explosive noise thats almost like a dimensional breach in the fabric of deep space. To the past again in 'Five Man Army', where a trio of artists including 2 band members and Tricky spin out some jiving tunes bruv. Some strange flutes with a Jamaican reggae twist. Some of the lyrics make a few references like 'Wilkinson Sword' spout phrases like "money money money, route of all evil". A tad out of place here but considering the previous songs I suppose this CD was in need of a number from the back catalogue and the same goes for the last of the album songs 'Sly'. Nicolette Suwoton sings a weird melody to an unsettling tune and to me, seems like an excuse to get another guest vocalist on the album. Sure there are some inspirational moments in the orchestral section that keeps to the theme of the song but other than that its not the best or most memorable song from 'Protection' ('Better Things' or 'Heat Miser' would have been ideal for this point in the album).
To conclude the compilation, a surprise is in store for the finale - 'Live With Me' is the cherry on a smooth, dark and tempting ice-cream sunday. As saddening as the introduction may be, its a delight to hear just one new offering, this one featuring the vocals of Terry Callier, who's clearing a smooth operator. "Either way, win or lose, when you're born into trouble, you live the blues.. I've been thinking about you, baby." is sang in an entrancing way that just screams emotion. After the first verse, the second picks up more intensity and feeling - "Nothing's right, if you ain't here.. I'd give all that I have, just to keep you near. I wrote you a letter, darling, tried to make it clear, but you just don't believe that I'm sincere. I've been thinking about you, baby.. I want you to live with me". It has the class of an entire string section and the traditional MA percussion combining for a superb conclusion. The great thing about this album is that it doesn't have strong language or troubling imagery so it can be played anywhere anytime and the sound can be appreciated by the young and elderly as its like a modern take on old school classics.