Massive Attack

100th Window (Virgin)

Massive Attack's slow-paced release schedule has made each of its albums a de facto statement on the U.K. dance-music scene: 1991's Blue Linesushered in trip-hop, '94's Protection and its companion No Protection introduced us to dub (not to mention Tricky), and '98's Mezzanine posited the group members as composers rather than mere knob-twiddlers. All the while, they've kept the public spellbound with a cinematic and dark urban sound that links hip-hop and reggae's drive to early post-punk's brooding alienation.

With 100th Window, the group grinds and stretches that link, continuing to forge an aesthetic all its own. Its fans have watched the group's core membership slim down from three – Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Andy "Mushroom" Vowles – to just Del Naja, who produced Window with Neil Davidge.

The result is a more focused mix of stoner paranoia and spiritual drama. The album's vocals let you draw a metaphysical line to the sky. Guest Sinéad O'Connor stands earthbound, firm yet fragile, in defense of men ("Special Cases") and humanity ("A Prayer for England"); meanwhile, reggae veteran Horace Andy's echoed, ancient-sounding whine makes his minimalist lyrics in "Everywhen" and "Name Taken" seem almost celestial. Del Naja hovers in the impressionist ether between the two, chanting narcotic dreams in his nasal drone: "Chemicals captured in winter's grip turn us on/Separate the leper/Hungry ghost."

As all its albums show, Massive Attack is concerned less with simply making tunes than with forging environments. Del Naja and Davidge swirl each tune's vocals into a wall of dubbed-out synths, potent bass lines and stripped-down electronic rhythms, and the singers claim their songs fully rather than competing with the production. Massive Attack shows us how to reconfigure the electronic dance music album into something unique.

 
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