Massive Attack, Mezzanine (Virgin, 1998)

I don't often go back in time when looking for albums in review, but with a shortage of new albums getting my attention I decided to grab something I had been curious about for a while. Massive Attack were an English techno group consisting of Robert Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall, and Andy Vowles, plus a rotating group of guest musicians. While they had their heyday in the nineties, Del Naja and Daddy G still perform together. I was impressed by Jose Gonzalez' cover of their song "Teardrop," the original version of which is used in the opening credits of the show House. The song comes from the group's 1998 CD Mezzanine, so I decided to give that album a listen.

What strikes me about techno in hindsight is that the one sub-genre of rock that could still be described as cutting edge in the mid to late nineties has largely fizzled out, or at least fallen off the radio, while most other styles have endured despite becoming blissfully stagnant. When you consider how quickly rock evolved in its first forty years or so, the relative absence of change in music since 1995 is disturbing and alarming. Massive Attack deserve credit for trying something edgy and different, but they seem to be on the losing side of history. Their sound is now attached to a particular, distant time.

This is a shame, as the band had plenty to offer. To begin with, the their name is a bit misleading. Massive Attack certainly weren't as relentlessly beat-heavy (and unmusical) as The Prodigy were, for example. "Teardrop," featuring the vocals of Elizabth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, is an excellent song with a solid melody that lingers with you. The raps on the album have a brooding, simmering intensity to them that is subtly effective. I don't know which member did them, but the rapper creatively turns his thick English accent into a musical asset. Guest musician Angelo Bruschini does some fine, if heavily distorted, guitar work on a couple of the songs as well.

I'm not sure how much sense this description makes, but Mezzanine sounds both dated and fresh at the same time. Massive Attack may belong to a style that pop culture has largely discarded, but they were worthy representatives of the style.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Teardrop"

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