If ever there was an album to which superlatives apply then this is it. Less soulful and playful then earlier outings this is nonetheless Massive Attack's finest album. From the low throb of opener angel to the last clatter of exchange this is an album to love. Dark, bruising and fractured certainly yet still swelling with a subsumed emotion that is worth a million Will Youngs. This is an album that can aptly be described as 'difficult' without actually being difficult to listen to. Massive Attack's strange and threatening audio world is so artfully arranged that it never strikes as discordant or awkward. If a first listen beguiles, and I assure you that it will, then repeated attempts will reveal new wonders and finally will render the darkness warm and cozy and the only sane response to life. Played at a low volume the sounds that ooze from the speakers sit sulkily lurking at the corners of the room, ripe with menace. Played loud the heavy metal thunder of Angel or Dissolved Girl will work its corrosive magic in a way that the nu-metal fraternity can only dream of. The vocalist most associated with this album is Elizabeth Frazer and its easy to see why. The distinctive style of her vocals perfectly offsets the sullen and richly textured sounds in which they are set, like diamonds in black velvet. However personally I find Sarah Jay's only track, Dissolved Girl far more effecting. Her low voice is both sexy and, like Beth Gibbons of Portishead, conveys volumes of stark emotion just veering off desperation. Horace Andy's caramelised voice adds sweetness to every track that he sings on. Despite the various different styles and plethora of vocalists, five in total, this album still manages more coherence then more straightforwardly structured bands seem capable. There isn't a duff track here and while no two tracks are the same they all share a certain indefinable quality that's unique to Massive Attack. All in all a massive achievement and if, as seems likely, its their last album then a worthy swansong for one of the finest bands of the nineties. Oh yeah and its quite dark too.
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