Massive Attack: Heligoland, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Massive Attack
Title: Heligoland
Release date: February 9, 2010
Label: Virgin
I'm probably missing something here, but what's the big deal about Massive Attack? Maybe their earlier albums are really good. I don't know, I've never heard them. But this new record, Heligoland, is kind of a snoozer. It's an all-star effort with lead vocals by the likes of Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, and British singer Martina Topley-Bird, but much of these stars' contributions don't bring much life to these sleepy songs.

Actually, for the most part, calling these compositions "songs" is being generous. They're mostly just atmospheric soundscapes with looping basslines and laid-back drum beats. In many cases, the vocals are a distraction from what's going on musically. The vocal lines rarely don't carry any discernible melody, so there's little, if any, compelling reason to pay attention to the lyrics. I have to believe the lyrics are an after-thought in any Massive Attack. Please write to me and correct me if I'm wrong.

Like I said, this exquisitely produced music seems to be all about atmosphere. In this record's case, it's a rather gloomy atmosphere. I can see Massive Attack stripping away the vocals and using this music as a movie score. Sitting around listening to this record in its entirety? Seems like it would be a major chore.

And, in fact, it was, for me.

Best song: "Girl I Love You," with its ominous horn arrangement and notable lead vocals by Horace Andy.
Rotation: Low
Deja Vu: Four Tet, but still better than Four Tet.
I'd rather listen to: Rock music
Grade: C-

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