on 19 May 2012
After Massive Attack's last full length album in 2003 ('100th Window'), Robert Del Naja and co were long overdue for a fifth installment of electronica trip-hop. With Andrew Vowles departing and Grant Marshall making a his welcome return, good things were expected as the previous album was lesser received than the cult classic 'Mezzanine' and contained a little too much '3D'. Like the albums mentioned, 'Heligoland' also showcases talent from special guess vocalists such as Elbow's Guy Garvey and Damon Albarn from Blur and Gorillaz. The cover is artwork from 3D's growing back catalogue and although the disc is bland looking, whats on it is some seriously dodgey treats. 12 tracks, ranging through 4 to almost 8 minutes (no shortens here) for over 50 minutes of massive mayhem.
Track no.1 'Pray for Rain' sounds like a drug rattled mind, bobbing back and fourth in a dark room corner. A few seconds in and Massive Attack have already set an atmospheric tone of dark and troublesome. With a low rattle of drums, a haunting repetitive piano and sly bass which could easily be a synthetic effect. There are two parts to the song, the initial part, rolling along saying "..and their necks crane/their eyes change.. as they turn to pray for rain/learn to see through flame" then the breakdown halfway through altering drum patterns and adding various sound effects and Tunde Adebimpe spewing "Vision walls fall fast and fleeting. Vision walls fall all revealing" then calming it down with all sorts of vocal hums and a bass line similar to 'Blue Lines' style. A very strange song and one that totally stands out. 'Babel' has a nice change of pace as Martina Topley-Bird takes over the vocals for a rushing track with strong string sounds and a high tempo percussive beat. "Was it how she kissed you and then dismissed you? Was it purposeful or just to hook you in?" is delicately declared until a spasm of incoherent rhyming ensues - "Hallucinating, chasing, changing, racing, breaking, hating till you lost it all". Although it runs over 5 minutes, it goes by in a breeze due to its snappy instrumentation and catchy vocals.
Slowed down and chilled out is the next theme in 'Splitting the Atom', the only single officially released from the album. Horace Andy and Grant Marshall offer 3D their aid in the form of smooth vocals to an already slick, bubbling song. More mellow hip hop with added trip, "Its easy - don't let it go" is the mantra chorus from Andy and although slightly chilling at times, thanks to the background score, the short sentence verses keep you nodding along mindlessly, to one of the slowest tracks on Heligoland. 'Girl I Love You' is instantly admirable with a righteous, rumbling bass like from beginning to end and the classic stuttering vocal work from Horace Andy. The lyrics don't vary much from a standard love letter, just plain and simple, avoiding all the BS and demanding "You promise you will never let me down.. If you love me that much you would stick around" - cue the brass section, trumpets, trombones, tubas, whatever sound out the same note over and over, until they all fall out of tune and sound hideous.. original but unpleasant. 'Psyche' starts with 2 frantic spanish guitars, merely performing pull-offs as Topley-Bird offers more vocals. She sound like a depressed Lily Allen here, as the guitars continue to repeat behind her, fading in and out. Thankfully its the shortest track as hearing the first couple of notes is enough to drive you mad.
Sadly, it gets even worse thanks to Guy Garvey dull and dreary performance in 'Flat of the Blade'. Perhaps its just the terrible sounds of bleeps and bloops going on throughout the song that make it a difficult song to star in to begin with. His voice is flat and follows a melody to what seems like a totally different song. Some quiet orchestral work shines through for a few minutes but its not enough to save a blatantly awful song. So pleasing it is to hear the seventh track, lucky number 7, 'Paradise Circus' with Hope Sandoval at the helm, with her brand of melancholy vocals, funky drum and bass work and piano synchronizing with bell/glockenspiel effects. "Love is like a sin, my love. For the ones that feel it the most. Look at her with her smile like a flame.. She will love you like a fly will never love you.. again". Incredibly moving and downbeat thanks to the delightful string section and heavy piano notes, crashing on the keys. It could be evidence that the members of Massive Attack should leave most of the singing to others as its the Bristol lads at their best, a song I'd recommend, although you've probably heard it on adverts here and there.
'Rush Minute' sounds straight out of '100th Window' as 3D starts his standard lackadaisical lyrics in front of more dark notes, gaining momentum after each verse. "I wanna get clean but I gotta get high" sounds more like a rap than the usual MA story, "Peaches living in niches, digging the scene like beautiful cliche's" is more like it. Again, the piano works well behind the scenes sounding like an evil version of Coldplay's 'Clocks' at times and using several string effects, dawdling from the chorus'. Second to last is 'Saturday Come Slow', a personal favourite of mine on the album, which has Damon Albarn provide the singing in dramatic fashion. As the tom toms clutter their way into rhythm and a rustic guitar finds a melody, Albarn recalls "In the limestone caves, in the south ways lands. One sound in the kingdom, believers understand". More of a showman than a pitch perfect vocalist, Albarn manages to stoke a fiery performance with his desperate cries of "Saturday come slow.. Do you love me!?" whilst an equally tear jerking piano pieces sharp notes bounce along to the guitar. An interlude at the halfway point features birds chirping and electronic feedback and noise gather more force for the final delivery of 'Saturday Come Slow', ending with "Is there nothing left?".
A suitable ending is 'Atlas Air' with one of the most catchiest introductions Massive Attack have come up with. The shaking organ and a generic drum loop will get stuck in your head for hours, and as its the longest song on the album, its a lengthy goodbye to remember. "Fish like little silver knives, make the cuts on my inside" - some more of 3D's imagery comes to vivid fruition. That is until "got nothing to lose but my chains, internet feeds on my brains". Towards the last few verses, a second melody is overlaid, ricocheting off the drums and causing havoc then things get eerily quiet. Nothing, not even light hearted bongos can prepare you for the fattest, robotic riff wiggling around in your ear drums. Its not enough that this melody get loudly fired into your mind but the initial intro gets played again to close the song so you never forget it and end up tapping fingers on your desk or mumbling and mimicking the noises.
Theres a lot to be found here in 'Heligoland', for either dedicated fan or brief listener as its subtle songs can grow in stature and others are solid performances that always shine through, so much so that varies television channels and series will use Massive Attack music in the backgrounds to many of their programming, something thats been done since the famous 'Teardrop'. Its certainly different to all the other albums, making use of far simpler instruments but also combining them with the styles and effects that made them popular in the first place. Something to consider is that the handful of vocalist who submit their talents to the group, and star on the album track-list must believe greatly in MA's work, often cited as an influence or an honor. Its your chance to get into some super catchy tunes as well as hear new musicians you may not have been aware of before, look out for it.