Tag Archives: Massive Attack

Massive Attack: Pre-Millennium Tension

Massive Attack

Massive Attack

Look over your shoulder, keep your eye on your neighbour, trust no one: These are sentiments usually reserrved for paranormal-hunting government agents, not rock stars, but the leery eye has afflicted Massive Attack, too. Mezzanine, the Bristol trip-hop trio’s new album, is more spycatchers’ guide to self-help than bass-bin beach party.

Indeed, bubbling just beneath the monstrous bass lines and Liz Fraser’s (Cocteau Twins) sweet vocal mixes is a tension you’ll miss if you don’t pay attention. But it’s there — wild-eyed suspicion.

“Being in a band is quite schizophrenic, really,” says 3D. “We spend a lot of time away from home and when we get back we don’t relate to people necessarily.” He’s unshaven and looks as though he could have authored numerous conspiracy theories, rather than dub-infected pop songs. “These things do lead to a bit of insecurity and paranoia and that’s reflected in the music.”

You wouldn’t think a group as important as Massive Attack would need to be a wary lot. Three albums in (Blue Lines ’91, Protection ’94, Mezzanine ’98), the aforementioned 3D, Daddy G and Mushroom are pretty well-established these days. They work with Madonna; get to pick and choose who they’ll remix; and the band have become both a popular pick and a critical fave. If you trace Massive’s roots back to its genesis hanging in Nelle Hooper’s crew, it’s not a great stretch to suggest that the Attack is single-handedly responsible for creating the trip-hop genre.

However, a quick listen to the dark “Group 4” from Mezzanine suggests they’re still more trench coat than top hat. Lyrical snippets: “While TV cameras monitor me” and “I train myself in martial arts” don’t exactly ring out peace, love and positive vibes. Throw in the equally sinister “Angel” and the reptilian “Inertia Creeps” and there’s little doubt the band is looking over its collective shoulder.

“It’s one of the themes on this record,” says 3D. “I mean, we haven’t gone out and been deliberately dark in this end-of-the-century kind of way that says everyone’s getting darker… it’s like a general end-of-the-century kind of freak show going on, y’know what I mean?”

“With us it’s just based on themes in our lives — our relationships.”

From that, one could gather Bristol is some James Bond-ian swing town where rock stars double as covert ops in crazy world domination schemes. Sadly, it’s far less glamourous. Mushroom suggests: “A quick night in Bristol. You probably come down there. Go to the pub. Then go home,” he says, laughing.

“People think Bristol is a marketplace town like Seattle,” Mushroom continues. “You walk down the street and see Portishead hanging on one corner and we’d be on another and Roni Size’d be on the next. It’s all really just people staying in. It’s a really boring town, actually.”

If Bristol is so boring, then the wariness so palpable in songs like the rolling-thunder “Risingson” must come from somewhere else.

Perhaps somewhere even closer to home — in their heads. The next three hypothetical scenarios give weight to this theory by showing Massive Attack even exhibit hints of suspicion in their humour.

Who would win a battle royale between Madonna, Goldie, Tricky and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince?

3D pipes in immediately: “Madonna’s the richest, so she’d probably hire some serious assassins. She’d make the phone call and that would be it — done.” Then, with more introspection — but also with more secret knowledge implied, Mushroom adds, “You wouldn’t be able to find Goldie because he’d know it would be coming up, and he’d just run out the back door and sic pit bulls on ’em.”

If six death-metallers with swords and two rappers with Glocks are 10 feet apart, then start to fight, who’ll win? “Glocks are going to win against swords every time man,” says 3D. “Yeah,” adds Mushroom.” You don’t miss with someone with a sword coming at you.”

If everyone smoked a big joint simultaneously would it mean a massive shortage of junk food an hour later? “I think there would be riots,” says 3D.

Riots, pit bulls, sleazy short guys with gold teeth? It screams out “vivid imagination,” but check the Horace Andy-sung “Man Next Door” and you’ll know Massive Attack truly believe in these type of characters and scenarios, and always have.

Indeed, even the band agrees. As 3D says, “We’re pretty much the same place [as that]. The same level, the same mentality.”

This feature originally appeared in the May 1998 issue of Chart Magazine.

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 1996

Tricky's Maxinquaye

Tricky’s Maxinquaye

Back in 1996 I was the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Centennial College student newspaper, The Siren. I dug into some of those back issues to find my Top Ten album list from that year.

Looking at the list now it’s a pretty clear reaction against grunge in favour of mostly dark, electronic-based music.

Here it is:

1. Tricky Maxinquaye
2. Massive Attack Protection
3. Future Sound of London ISDN
4. Pop Will Eat Itself Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
5. Neil Young Mirror Ball
6. Blue Resistance
7. Portishead Dummy
8. Teenage Fanclub Grand Prix
9. Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral
10. Cypress Hill Temple Of Boom

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Maxinquaye remains infinitely listenable. Besides the tepid cover of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel” it still sound intriguing today. It’s probably no longer the #1 on this list, but it’s still a solid Top Five.

Of the trip-hop big three Massive Attack’s Protection is probably the one I care the least about now. That’s not to say I don’t care, it’s just that it’s the album I go back to the least amongst them. Again, if you listen to this album in the now it could still fool the kids into maybe thinking it’s current. Or, at the very least, you can trick ’em into believing “these are the guys who used to produce The Weekend.”

Holy smokes did I ever listen to Future Sound of London’s ISDN a lot back in the day. It’s why I’m very been-there, done-that about Boards of Canada in the present. This was also kinda my last flashback buzz album as I transitioned from student rascal/five-day-a-week rave ‘n’ club kid into person-with-a-job.

I wouldn’t quite call this a guilty pleasure because there’s no guilt in my enjoyment of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, but of the albums on this list it’s probably the easiest to peg in terms of being of a certain time, scene and sound.

Neil Young’s Mirror Ball is the only good album Pearl Jam’s ever been part of.

In hindsight, the inclusion of Blue’s Resistance on this list is kinda embarrassing. An electro-dub record on Sabres of Paradise’s label, this selection was clearly an act of showing off my expensive import record collection. The album doesn’t suck, but it wouldn’t make my Top Ten now and it speaks of hanging around a bit too much in the chill out room.

Portishead are where it’s at. After some time and distance, Dummy is probably my #1 album for 1996. And Beth Gibbons was doing witchcore at least 10 years before everyone else was.

I’m not sure why I put Teenage Fanclub’s Grand Prix on my list. I don’t really like Teenage Fanclub or much power pop and I haven’t actually listened to this album since 1996. This song’s OK, though, so perhaps I need to revisit this one:

Ah, Nine Inch Nails. I had this at #9, which means I probably didn’t like it all that much, but as a superfan of the band I had to put The Downward Spiral
on the list. Maybe it’s because the album’s so familiar. After all, it was the album that anchored a certain big-booted, goth-rivethead scene that year and I would have heard it everywhere I went. It can probably stay on this list… but with a leery eye.

Cypress Hill’s Temple Of Boom? Too much time in the chill out room, for sure.

Other album lists…

2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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Alternative Then And Now: Current Bands And Their Descendents

Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire

Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire

Everything old is new again. Or something like that. And everything in music has been done before.

And if you’ve got a big enough record collection, you can actually trace the genelogical lines between artists a couple decades remove. Which is exactly what Aaron did in an article called Alt-Rock Then And Now: Connecting The Classes Of 1992 And 2012.

The story is exactly what it sounds like. Massive Attack were compared to The Weeknd, Pearl Jam to Arcade Fire, Jesus And Mary Chain to Crocodiles, etc., etc.

To read the story over at Spinner, click here.

 

 

 

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Aaron’s Top 10 Albums Of 1998

Baxter in 2010

Baxter in 2010

This was my official Top 10 album list for 1998:

1. Baxter Baxter
2. The Jesus And Mary Chain Munki
3. Lauryn Hill The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
4. Massive Attack Mezzanine
5. Mercury Rev Deserter’s Songs
6. Space Tin Planet
7. PJ Harvey Is This Desire?
8. 54-40 Since When
9. Godspeed You Black Emperor! F#A#∞
10. The Inbreds Winning Hearts

Not to be confused with the post-hardcore band Baxter featuring Tim McIlrath, later of Rise Against, the Baxter I’m talking about were a Swedish electronica trio signed to Madonna’s Maverick label. I still stand by their self-titled debut album and listen to it today. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was one of the best, most slept on records of the ’90s.

Singer Nina Ramsby cooed morbid Nordic spells over an elegant wash of drum ‘n’ bass in songs that were just a touch too jagged and heartbroken to rank as car commercial sellout techno. This was the stuff.

Here’s their song “Television,” 13 years before Lykke Li:

The Jesus And Mary Chain are one of my favourite bands. And when they put out Munki on Sub Pop I was pretty excited about it. Time has tempered my enthusiasm somewhat and I can admit now what I couldn’t admit then — Munki is definitely not a Top 10 album.

Remember that year when Lauryn Hill was the greatest? I do. Then she went cray-cray. In hindsight this album has a few mind-blowers, a personal fave being “Lost One,” but it maybe captures more of a time and a place. And Hill’s dropping off hasn’t helped its legacy.

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” remains classic:

I interviewed Massive Attack for the Mezzanine album on the same day that Avi Lewis from The New Music did. I remember being so bummed that I didn’t get a great interview out of them when I finished, but later, when I saw that they FELL ASLEEP during Avi’s interview I felt pretty awesome — at least I was able to keep them awake.

Mercury Rev Deserter’s Songs is still beautiful. It’s definitely their high-water mark as a band, and if you’re the sort that likes to map out family trees, I’d argue that Deserter’s Songs is one of the pillar records for the sprawling indie rock that would eventually be perfected by Arcade Fire. This still holds up.

The band Space are responsible for one of the best singles of the ’90s.

This:

That song’s not on Tin Planet, though. So I think I was feeling a bit compensatory by trying to jam this one onto my Top 10.

It does at least have the song “The Ballad Of Tom Jones,” which is a particularly cheeky duet between Space’s Tommy Scott and Cerys Matthews of Catatonia. Sarah and I have contemplated learning it as a karaoke slayer.

“The Ballad Of Tom Jones”

PJ Harvey’s one of my foundation artists. I think she’s brilliant and fascinating, and Is This Desire? remains one of my favourite albums by her. I prefer her when she’s doing less howling, and more dark purring, which is what she does here. PJ believes it’s the best album she’s ever made and I just might agree. This should probably go higher in hindsight.

Check out “The Wind”:

54-40’s Since When? I really like this band. Always have. Not really sure why it made it on this list, though.

Yeah, I was just as swept up in Godspeed You Black Emperor! and their album F#A#∞ as every other young, enthusiastic music writer. Going back to it, this record’s still unique and interesting, it’s just not… special anymore. The best parts of their sound and technique ended up getting lifted by all the next generation Montreal bands who’d take what they heard here into more manageable/palatable territory. Which arguably makes F#A#∞ still relevant and awesome, but nobody in 2011 wants to do their computing on an Apple Classic II, right?

The Inbreds Winning Hearts? This one’s probably another sympathetic choice. The Inbreds were just about done as a band at this point and as someone who had spent his teen years romancing the Halifax scene and finally having the authority to write my very own fancy published Top 10 album list in a music magazine I was probably swept up in the drama of it all. I haven’t even ripped this album into iTunes all these years later. Still like the band, though.

Other album lists…

2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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