on 7 February 2010
Just the name itself suggests waves of dubby synths, deep basslines, martial yet half-asleep beats and croony vocals. Sure, they helped define a genre for the 90s, that lame "trip hop" tag so many claimed to be part of and so few deserved, producing much groundbreaking music, especially in the shape of their debut "Blue Lines" (1991), which helped set DJ culture into the mainstream, and "Mezzanine" (1998) that added heavy, howling guitars in the mix to a mostly stunning effect.
So, what's to expect from this, their 5th album proper in a mere twenty years career ? Well, as many other reviewers noted, a bit of the same and something different at once. First striking thing is the actual sound of the whole record. Some pointed out a supposed return to the coldness of "Mezzanine", but that's not at all what I hear here. If "100th Window", their 2003 effort, was a letdown to many fans, being more of a 3D solo effort than a collective work, in fact it furthered the post-punk hint "Mezzanine" suggested, replacing the loud guitar shriek with icy electro beats. The results were, to say the least, mixed, but at least it was still seeking forward, sonically speaking. On "Heligoland", by contrast, everything is understated, from the drum patterns to the shy basslines, from a quiet organ part in the background to voices you feel are more dreamt than actually performed. That's a record that almost begs forgiveness for existing at all, rather than punching its pride in your face, which is why it probably won't get among die-hard fans (let alone the mainstream) the same praise as their giddy peaks mentioned above.
Take, for example, languid opener "Pray For Rain", magnified by TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe ; on previous records, songs like "Safe From Harm", "Angel", "Protection" and even "Future Proof" were kicking proceedings in panache and style, but here you get a moody lament over a tense rolling drumbeat that keeps things tight but never to the point of explosion. If there's a revolution this time around (and as far as I know nobody pointed this out yet), that's precisely the fact that, for once, Massive Attack seem to have opted for a rather organic simplicity instead of creating the beat monster everyone expected (especially in the wake of the awesome "United Snakes" released in 2006 as the flip to "False Flags", and that could have been a welcome addition here).
Yet for all simple it appears, "Heligoland" is a much thought of record, being neither minimal nor easy, it's just that the main body of work hides behind the curtains. As always, the vocalists guestlist must have been quite helpful too : the two Martina Topley-Bird contributions, on the false calmdown "Psyche" and the tense "Babel" shine on, while, oddly, the exquisitely lightweight "Paradise Circus" - an obvious choice for the single - could have been an outtake from that singer's great LP, "Blue God"... except that it's performed (almost haunted, more like) by ex-Mazzy Star diva Hope Sandoval. Also, while not being a big Elbow fan to be frank, I have to give an accolade to their frontman Guy Garvey, who provides his wonderful, almost atonal falsetto on "Flat Of The Blade", making that difficult seemingly weird song sound like an early Peter Gabriel lost gem. Overall the record is less diverse but more consistent than other Massive LPs ; like another reviewer rightly pointed out, there's no real standout tracks yet there's no filler either (I still can't figure out, though, why Damon Albarn has been casted for the relatively dull "Saturday Come Slow", apart from his obvious friendship with the band).
Still, for all great those guests' performances are (and it has to be noted that for each one of them, the backing tracks seem to have been made up especially this time more than ever), it's from 3D himself and regular partner Horace Andy that the best comes again here ; at first together with Daddy G. on the narcotic anthem "Splitting The Atom", then the latter delivers on "Girl I Love You", which despite what its unworthy title might suggest, is a broody reggae-rock hybrid, driven by an epileptic bassline, while, like on "100th Window", the former gets to sound alarmingly worried and warmly seductive at the same time. At that, "Rush Minute" and "Atlas Air" are arguably the best things here, almost towers of song reaching the same heights the frightening "Antistar" did as the closer on the much maligned predecessor to this album.
So overall, "Heligoland" might not be as groundbreaking as the stuff Massive Attack are most known for, but it showcases a collective (with the back of Daddy G, largely absent from the previous decade's output) daring to experiment in his own field, which will be fair enough for some, and disappointing for others. But believe me, a bit like their underrated "Protection" (1994), that beast of a sensitive record (their best effort in my opinion, still), this really, almost physically, GROWS on you.
on 31 March 2011
To be honest, I overlooked this album when it first came out. The main reason was that the previous album, 100th Window, was incredibly one-paced, and, for want of a better word, dreary. The tracks on that album had poor lyrics, and one dimensional vocalists Del Naja (ok for a track or so) & Sinead O'Connor (?), and the tracks had no hooks, no progression, no definition, no edge, and for me, held no interest, sounding slightly muzaky.
Heligoland is what i call vintage Massive Attack. The variation is there, and a decent array of guest vocalists are present. So, in some respects this is like Blue Lines, but has more in common with Mezzanine, sounding quite dark and dense. 'Flat of the blade' does give the listener some restbite from that heavy atmosphere though, but even this track evolves and brings the listener back in by it's conclusion - it serves as a puncuation for the album (a good thing in my opinion). Whether Heligoland will hold my interest like Blue Lines (which, incidently, is starting to sound a little dated) and Mezzanine, or will suffer the same fate as Protection (which was accomplished but a little 'safe'), remains to be seen. I suspect it won't lose my interest because it has that slightly haunting quality and distinctive enough tracks. It will take quite a few listens to understand this album - more than the usual 4 or 5, i'm talking 10+ listens.
This has gone under the radar a bit, with people having unrealistic expectations of it, but trust me, there is some real quality here. A lot of the tracks ebb and flow with real aplomb, changing continually, most of which is subtly engaging in different ways, never stagnating, never repeating the same vocalists or patterns across the course of the album. No real standout tracks, but then why should there be? This is an album in the true sense of the word. It's going to be spending quite a lot of time in my CD player over the next few months.
on 10 February 2010
This album is not going to be liked by all fans of Massive Attack, or at least not right away. The depth of music of Blue Lines or Protection, or the intensity of Mezzanine seems to be lacking here, although probably everyone will notice that the music is stronger that anything we have heard from Massive Attack in the last 12 years. I would dare suggest that the depth of music is still here, but it has been...relocated. Miles Davis once said that his musical style kept changing on him, just like a curse. Well, after 16 years in business Massive Attack has gone experimental, atmospheric and minimalist all at once. However, all those changes affect mostly the added layers of the background of their music.
I have to say honestly that I have been disillusioned with a lot of new music of various styles, lately, and this new album by Massive Attack to me is one of the nicest musical surprises of the last many months, ever since Porcupine Tree's The Incident was released. The incorporation of the experimental ambient layers of sound in addition to the industrial tones which for a long time have been with Massive Attack makes this album unique to me. The overall mood is mellow, peaceful and reflective but it spreads over a wide sound texture. These songs may sound simple and plain at first, but they do grow on us with repetitive listening. I really feel like with this album the music of Massive Attack positioned itself somewhere between Massive Attack and Radiohead, and that is a perfect place to be in. Really, the Zoviet France like undertones of a few of their new songs (this album hides many jewels in the back of itself and its songs) are exactly the layers which make the music of Radiohead so addictive. The song number 7 for example, reminds me a little bit of Radiohead's Videotape.
I especially like tracks: 8,5,7,9,10,1.
Track 1 begins like cover of some bluesy Peter Green song from In The Skies, and then progresses into many different stages and layers. Track 2 is driven by a Joy Division like sounding bass and drum line and it is one of the most energetic songs of the album. Track 3 develops one of the most haunting atmospheric background melodies. Track 4 is full of texture which again, is located at the final minute of a song, a very Radiohead like approach. Track 5 has a Steve Reich like repetitive feeling to it. It is quite beautifully structured with a skillfully interwoven vocal line. Track 6 is very trippy and will probably turn quite a few listeners off. However, there is much more happening here besides the Skinny Puppy like rhythm section which becomes less prevalent as this song progresses. The beauty of track 7 is apparent from the beginning and it has a hypnotic quality. Just play it on repeat 1 and you might experience a beautiful enchanted evenings. Track 8 floats in between Massive Attack, Radiohead and Joy Division, a truly perfect ground. Both tracks 9 and 10 are...very complex... underneath.
Again, please listen to this album quite a few times before you decide that you really don't like it as much. This music will grow on you...
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.
on 25 June 2012
I absolutely adore Mezzanine, and can happily listen to it all day on repeat.
One day I felt I needed to explore what else Massive Attack have done, and came across Heligoland. After a small preview of each song, I thought to myself, "Why the hell not?" and bought it.
Now, I'm not saying it's not worth buying, but I felt fairly underwhelmed when listening to a few songs. I'll start with the best - in my opinion - and work my way down:
Paradise Circus, Atlas Air, Girl I Love You and Splitting The Atom make for a nice treat to listen to. They're each memorable, eerie, dark and melodic. Just what I like from Massive Attack. I particularly enjoy Hope Sandoval's voice in Paradise Circus. It feels so dreamy alongside the music.
Now onto the not so good (but not terrible) songs:
Flat Of The Blade, Pray For Rain and Psyche are not necessarily 'bad'. But I feel they don't quite measure up. They feel a little mishmash, and you're left wondering what each of these songs were trying to aim for.
For the 3 I've left out - Saturday Come Slow, Rush Minute and Babel - they're nice to listen to, but not quite memorable enough. More suitable to quietly listening to in the background.
So overall, not a complete disappointment, as there are some songs that I'll still listen to over and over again, but there are some I'll skip over.
on 6 January 2016
HAVE THEY DONE IT AGAIN? I must say that, it is really easy for me to BIG up Massive Attack as they are from Bristol as am I and I have always loved underground and weird music, BUT I wouldn't BIG up Massive if this was a crap album. IT ISN'T! Naturally after listening to this it cemented my respect for them as In my opinion this is a really great and unique work. Very powerful lyrics and sounds with the honourable uses of other great producers/artists such as Elbows Guy Garvey and Blur's Damon Alburn. There is an un-equalled power and uniqueness to Massive Attacks ability to create fresh new sounds and I am impressed once again. 3D alone is such a talented creator of many things and Daddy G is a thoughtful and deep cat who has a rare skill for just knowing how things should sound. Together they are true masters of the darker side of chilled dub breakbeat music. So have they done it again? That would be a resounding YES!
on 31 January 2012
A step away from previous albums with the odd nod back to them. The songs are lo fi in comparison. the darker mood is continued from later albums with a much stripped back approach. Strangely in the same ball park as Tricky's Nearly God album. very minimalistic and stark. It is still a good album with a bit not there.
on 19 January 2010
For me, this album is an instant classic- Massive Attack's spark and originality really shine through on this record and their inspired choice of vocalists (Damon Albarn, Martina Topley Bird, Guy Garvey from Elbow) gives each track a different edge, as if they've moulded the music around each particular voice rather than just getting someone to sing over backing tracks. There's really something for everyone too, from the sinister, understated (and very catchy) Splitting The Atom to the intense lushness of Paradise Circus. Hard to say which songs are stand-out though- it's one of those records which you can put on and it just flows from start to finish (very rare nowadays, I think).
So, in short, another awesome album from a truly original band...
on 24 October 2010
I was introduced to Massive Attack by my daughter and immediately liked their last CD. This one however took me a while. My first thought was 'can't see me playing this much' but I left it in the car on the CD changer and gradually got used to it and now really appreciates the depths and nuances of the music.
on 17 April 2010
To offer a comparision with Radiohead's recent 'In Rainbows' for its renaissance factor would not be far off the mark, and having grown up with Massive Attack and listened to all their albums, this one pleasantly surprised me.. and in the best possible way a classic album can..it rapidly grows on you and earworms its way into your day with lots of worming space to spare. Robert Del Naja has swallowed the Nick Drake melancholy tune book and given it an experimental electronic flare that is sometimes equalled but never surpassed in UK music IMHO, and this album still has an overall cutting edge, which is remarkable for a band that has been around since 1988. Therefore luke warm reviews coming from across the pond (e.g. Pitchfork 5/10) are even more puzzling to me - the juicy discordant middle-eight break in 'Girl I Love You' and very addictive base line of 'Psyche' are worth the entrance fee alone :)) A slow burner for sure and, if like me, you were slightly under-awed by '100th Window', Heligoland should not disappoint!