The monotonous beating of a big drum filled the air with muffled shocks and a lingering vibration...and had a strange narcotic effect on my half-awake senses..
--Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
If someone ever bothered to ask who put the trip in hip hop, the resounding answer would be Massive Attack (or maybe Coldcut, but that's another story). Whilst much of Britain's electronic scene has turned to drum 'n bass to escape the homogenisation of hip hop, the forefathers of the so called "Bristol Sound" have once again delivered the goods with Mezzanine; their third LP and the perfect soundtrack to induce bouts of premillenial paranoia. Where Massive's seminal '94 album Protection unveiled trip hop's bare dub essentials, Mezzanine withdraws ominously into the shadows. Although staying true to hip hop form, Massive Attack pervert their loops with grinding riffs, addictive hooks, and beats 'n bass that drip like honeyed narcotic.
Mezzanine opens with Angel, seducing the listener into the unlit depths of the album, with Horace Andy's androgynous vocals submerged by wailing guitar crescendos. Risingson, released as the first single prior to the album, follows, featuring old-skool duet rapping Massive-style. Echoing guitar, bass and choral sampling surge languidly to the surface, underscored by subsonic beats and stuttering hi-hat schizophrenia.
Teardrop is next, showcasing the vocal talents of former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser. With minimal guitar and piano chords that break eerily into minimal bleeps and beats solos, Teardrop incites flashbacks to the more poignant moments of Protection, marking probably the most upvibe moment on the album. Next Inertia Creeps sends us back downvibe with Eastern samples obliterated by cavernous Leftfield-esque afro drumming and pulsing electrosounds vaguely reminiscent of Portishead's obvious theremin addiction.
While the first third of the album sends you up the river looking for Kurtz, Exchange comes off as an odd cut-and-paste excursion into acid jazz that would make the execs at Mo' Wax proud. Even though this smells distinctly like b-side, the oozing double bass saves it from being a filler track. After the interlude, Dissolved Girl propels Massive Attack into Portishead's territory - throaty female vocalist laid over shagging music for trendy people - only to be rescued by wall of guitar noise, and the following track, Man Next Door. The closest moment to straight out dub on the album, Man Next Door allows for Horace Andy to display the lyrical mastery that characterised much of Massive's earlier work.
The ethereal vocals of Black Milk then drift into the lo-fi rap duet, buzzing static and fragmented beats of title track Mezzanine.
Liz Fraser procures the mike again for 8 minute pastiche epic Group Four, and duels with Massive Attack's trademark whispered rapping. (Exchange) rounds out Mezzanine - it's practically the same as Exchange, except this time with lyrics - as if the intermission music was also destined to be played whilst the credits were rolling.
Aside from the pretentious cardboard packaging that won't fit in my CD rack but looks a treat on the coffee table, this album as our resident metal reviewer would say, rocks. Although they alluded to it in Protection, Massive Attack have finally revealed their ugly side. And it's very, very good.
Horace Andy : Vocals
Winston Blissett : Guitar (Bass)
Angelo Bruschini : Guitar
Neil Davidge : Keyboards, Sampling
Robert "3-D" del Naja : Vocals
Elizabeth Fraser : Vocals
Andy Gangadeen : Drums
John Harris : Guitar (Bass)
Sara Jay : Vocals
Dave Jenkins : Keyboards
Robert Locke : Guitar (Bass)
Grant "Daddy G." Marshall : Vocals
Massive Attack : Keyboards, Sampling
Michael Timothy : Keyboards
Tim Young : Sqratching
Neil Davidge : Arranger, Producer, Programming
Robert "3-D" del Naja : Art Direction, Design
Tom Hingston : Art Direction, Design
Nick Knight : Photography
Jan Kybert : Digital Editing, Mixing Assistant
Massive Attack : Arranger, Main Performer, Producer, Programming
P-Dub : Mixing Assistant
Lee Shepherd : Engineer
Mark "Spike" Stent : Mixing
Back in '98, I wrote this review for by certain music magazine who never paid me! If only I could trade XP for food.