For the masses, Massive Attack is one of those bands that are around, but not recognized as such. Rather, they spark occasionally on the airwaves in things like commercials, TV theme songs or perhaps as a background enhancer for one of MTV’s more tragedy-laden reality shows. And why not? Tracks by the mavens of “trip-hop” seem to always coat their beats in a layer of cinematic gravity that commands attention as well as hypnotic ease. The tracks on their own, however, convey the kind of warmth that one feels long after being stranded in the snow and right before freezing to death. But when we talk about this album, the sound is more akin to the fuzzy sense of non-fulfillment one feels twitching in their synapses just before overdosing for the absolute last time.
The band reached their apex of breakbeat brooding with Mezzanine, their long-awaited third album that was born out of ego-clashing and considerable amounts of rewriting. The wait seemed worth it. While the album is clouded with thick mood-production, the lush melodies, sugar-lunged guest vocalists (reggae singer Horace Andy and Cocteau Twins muse Liz Frazer) and subtle danceability blasted Massive Attack onto the mainstream – and more than a handful of film soundtracks. Tracks like the roaring “Angel,” the somber “Inertia Creeps” and the starkly skin-crawling duo “Risingson” and “Mezzanine” meld their gothic smoke screen with warm ambience, collages of electronica, not to mention jazz, amped arena rock and sweet pulsating dub.
The uniqueness of this album, however, seems understated. It’s almost like a catch-22 in which you make a piece of art so influential that those imitators you spark take the ideas and run, thus burying the originators under heaps of rehashed sound. While this is the case in some instances, very few artists have been able to improve on what Mezzanine, not to mention Massive Attack’s previous albums, have propagated. Lo, with Mezzanine, Massive Attack’s songwriting and mood-producing made them viable peers of A Certain Ratio, Public Image Limited and New Order. They’ve gone from a DJ medium phenomenon to major shapers of electronic and dance music well outside of the clubs.