Having enjoyed all of Massive Attack's last four albums and 'Live With Me' to certain extents I was looking forward to hearing some new material. Conversely to a lot of fans I actually quite enjoyed 100th Window which I felt took Mezzanine vibes to some extremes on the wonderful 'Antistar' and 'Butterfly Caught'. What let the album down really was a poor vocal performance by Sinead O'Conner on the three tracks she performed on. The album had a dark ambient electronic feel which lost a lot of the guitar-based, almost gothic paranoia of Mezzanine. 3D's vocals were somewhat different and the loss of Daddy G was felt too. Nevertheless it was fairly enjoyable without being exactly groundbreaking.
The same could be said for this belated follow up. It's not groundbreaking, and on the last track 'Atlas Air' I afforded myself a wry smile as the track sounds like something I myself have produced!! Maybe they were listening! The album is almost a lo-fi Mezzanine and feels more accessible than 100th Window throughout. A good range of guest vocalists such as Martina Topley-Bird help bring a good diversity to the tracks. I particularly enjoyed 'Girl I Love You' which turns into a somewhat dark, brooding, semi-industrial affair and the aforementioned 'Atlas Air' which has a killer keyboard riff and a 3D "on form" vocal which just absolutely builds into a swirling synth monster slightly reminiscent of "Group Four" from Mezzanine but carrying it's own identity. 'Pray For Rain' has it's moments despite the fairly downbeat tone and the inclusion of a Hope Sandoval vocal a masterful trick as 'Paradise Circus' really lulls you into it's lushness. The Damon Albarn track 'Saturday Come Slow' quite honestly passed me by as well as the Guy Garvey vocal 'Flat of the Blade' but 'Psyche' and 'Babel' by Topley-Bird make up for these fillers.
As I listened to Atlas Air a few times I certainly feel as other reviewers have said that it slightly saves the album as it's a towering achievement and a genius of a track that really floats my boat as it's in an area of music that really interests me. The improvements over 100th Window aren't profound but are measurable. A wide diversity of vocalists makes for interesting listening and a close production of the tracks make them sound like they came from the same stable unlike albums like 'Protection' that widely varied in track quality and sound. The genre is hard to describe it's fairly downbeat but feels more lo-fi, hip-hop influenced than dark ambient electronica. I also hear the influences of IDM artists as well as some semi-industrial artists like Nine Inch Nails for example. As ever with these things you have to listen to make up your own mind. My conclusion is that this is a good listen and a good, solid record but it will quickly disappear from your stereo and does not have the longevity of a 'Blue Lines' or 'Mezzanine' unfortunately but I did enjoy it more than 'Protection' or '100th Window'.
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