Album Review: Massive Attack - Heligoland

by Barb Abney

Heligoland is the fifth studio album from Bristol's Massive Attack. It's been a long seven year wait for the record, which I think you'll find has been well worth it.

Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall - known respectively as "3D" and "Daddy G" - are the founding members and driving force behind Massive Attack. I've been a fan of this band since my first listen to their full length debut, Blue Lines, back in the very early 90's. Massive Attack have their own "sound." While many trip hop bands sound a bit similar, Massive Attack stands out, yet offers a kind of certainty. It's not like the samey-same sound of one of The Ramone's songs versus another. It's more like a flow and a similarity to even their most decidedly different downtempo beat.

While Massive Attack have never been a "rainbows and sunshine" band, I was surprised at the darkness of this record. Heligoland opens with a dirge-like number called "Pray for Rain" featuring Tunde Adebimpe from TV on The Radio. The hypnotic percussion lulls you in to the darkness from the very first moments of the song. Martina Topley-Bird, known both for her solo material and as a long-time collaborator of Tricky, lends vocals on two of the "lighter" songs on the record - "Babel" and "Psyche." We're reminded that Tom Waits isn't the only guy who can sound like Tom Waits on the track "Splitting The Atom."

One of the dancier numbers on the record - "Girl I Love You" - builds from something you might hear in a dance club to something that seems destined for an action-adventure thriller. Maybe the work these guys have done on soundtracks during the breaks between releasing records has colored their own studio work.

Guy Garvey from Elbow sings masterfully over the tension that builds in "Flat Of The Blade." Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval couldn't sound more delicate through the instrumentation of "Paradise Circus." The highlight of the record for me is the keening and pleading of Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) singing "Do you love me, or is there nothing else?" from the song "Saturday Come Slow." The record ends with "Atlas Air," which reminds me of a a ride on a merry-go-round: the ups and downs while constantly moving in circles.

The band's sound continues to move and break new ground while still remaining comfortably familiar as Massive Attack.

As always, Massive Attack's records feature an impressive list of guest vocalists. Damon Albarn from Blur and Gorillaz, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Guy Garvey of Elbow, Tricky's "muse" Martina Topley-Bird, Horace Andy and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on The Radio.