Album Review: Massive Attack, “Mezzanine” (1998)

I hadn’t really heard of English trip-hop duo, Massive Attack, until one of my favourite artists, Jamie Cullum, performed a cover of one of their songs in concert.  I fell in love with Cullum’s version of “Teardrop”- so much so that I decided to follow it up by listening to the original song.  I  bought Massive Attack’s fourth studio album, Mezzanine, without hearing any songs (it being the album that contains “Teardrop”), and I can honestly say it’s been one of the best “blind” purchases I’ve ever made.

Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall are the two musicians in Massive Attack, and have been releasing music together since 1991.  Their aforementioned fourth studio album, Mezzanine, was released in 1998, and is their most successful album to date.  The CD is a mix of electronic and hip-hop music, highlighted by stellar guest vocalists, dark and captivating melodies, and beautifully written lyrics.

The album begins with Angel, a heavily synthesized electronic number, with a pulsating drum loop that plays throughout.  Reggae musician, Horace Andy, sings on the track, adding to the slow-paced, dreamy vibe.  Risingson follows, and is more on the hip-hop side of things.  The beat doesn’t sound much different from something you’d hear in a club (or, more realistically, on a Tricky album), and both Naja and Marshall do a passable job of rapping during the verses.  It’s a decent song, but there are far better offerings on the album, overall.

Speaking of which, Teardrop appears next.  The song is most likely Massive Attack’s most famous; it peaked at Number 10 on the UK album charts, has been included in many “best of…” lists and was featured in numerous TV shows and movies (notably as the theme song for TV show, House).  A digitized beat makes up the melody, this time highlighted by a hypnotic drum loop.  Vocalist Elizabeth Fraser (of Scottish band, Cocteau Twins) really makes the song with her striking vocals; her lilting soprano is both beautiful and sad.  The lyrics, written by Fraser after hearing of the death of close friend and fellow musician, Jeff Buckley (whom is another favourite of mine), are emotional and honest  (“Love, love is a verb/Love is a doing word/Fearless on my breath/Gentle impulsion/Shakes me, makes me lighter/Fearless on my breath”) and further add to the enjoyment of the song.

Massive Attack composite

My second favourite song on the album is Dissolved Girl. Another entrancing trip-hop beat is laid under seductive vocals from previously undiscovered singer, Sarah Jay.   The beat and Jay’s vocals go a long way in making the song so enthralling, but the sexy lyrics (“Fade, made to fade/Passion’s overrated anyway/Say, say my name/I need a little love to ease the pain/I need a little love to ease the pain/It’s easy to remember when it came”) are really what add to the track’s appeal.  Fraser returns as a vocalist on Black Milk, a much more experimental track.  The atmospheric sound is highlighted with Fraser’s vocals and the electronic elements, creating the perfect soundtrack for just spacing out and fading into the music.

Inertia Creeps 
sounds as eerie as its title suggests, from the slick, dark production to Naja’s deep vocals.  The whiny synth-line calls to mind a middle eastern influence and the melting pot of sounds works surprisingly well.   A big contrast to the dizzying production in Inertia Creeps is Exchange, where the same few drum loops and synths are played repetitively, until the song sort of fades into oblivion, calling to mind the sort of thing you’d hear through the receiver while on hold.  Title track, Mezzanine, is a fair bit livelier, but still doesn’t do much to impress on my memory and sounds pretty similar to some of the songs already heard on the album.

The disc comes to an end on a bit of a dull note with Group Four, an eight-minute long track.  Fraser makes her final appearance on the album, and though her vocals are as alluring as ever, the song meanders on for far too long to be enjoyable.  The length, sparse melody and odd whispering vocals from Naja, all turn the song into a weak mess of a track and a disappointing end to the CD.

Despite the weak ending, Mezzanine is truly fantastic album. Robert Naja and Grant Marshall’s blend of electronic and hip-hop music is brilliant, and the vocals from Sarah Jay and Elizabeth Fraser perfectly compliment the music and lyrics.  Whether you’re a fan of trip-hop/experimental music or you’re just looking for some good tunes to relax to, this album will be a perfect fit.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track List
1. Angel
2. Risingson
3. Teardrop
4. Inertia Creeps
5. Exchange
6. Dissolved Girl
7. Man Next Door
8. Black Milk
9. Mezzanine
10. Group Four

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7K72X4eo_s]
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