[sic] Magazine

Massive Attack – Heligoland

Everyone loves Massive Attack. Uber cool, allegedly. Theirs is the sound of a sun setting on the horizon as you wait for the guy sat next to you to shut up about his girlfriend who he’s been with for years, hates, and will never leave. Then he gets up, and another person sits down next to you, and tells you the secret of their life. The kind of stuff that critics in the now defunct Observer Music Monthly fawn over as though it is the Second Coming. Seemingly every new Massive Attack album (normally, these days, around seven years apart – apart from solo soundtrack faffing released under the band’s name) is hailed as bold, inventive, and the best thing since burnt toast.

Well, if you love Massive Attack, Heligoland is probably fabulous. All the usual (trans-predictable) ingredients, such as relaxed rhythms, piss-weak drums, and not-quite-there, semi-interested string sweeps are here. Coupled with Massive Attack’s trademarked vocal stylings, and you have a record that sounds… just like every other Massive Attack album. Unlike the rather grand Mezzanine, and the somewhat more exhausted commuter-knackered 100 Windows, Heligoland is the first sign of stasis.

As you might expect, the album is awash with guest vocalists – the usual Horace Andy singing soulfully as a man-mountain about love and the power of the broken heart – Damon Albarn showing that he really hates dull indie guitar music, and the token female vocalist (neither Dot Alison, nor Elizabeth Fraser, so something must be chronically wrong), following slight melodies and lyrically facile truisms.

As a serious of instrumental pieces, Heligoland is one of many similarly anonymous pieces that rely on a deft mix of smart production and absent melody: as the soundtrack to doing the washing up it is, in all probability, fabulous. There are some moments of smart brilliance: the second half of ‘Girl I Love You’ (possibly the worst title for a song ever) rides of a rotating bassline and claustrophobic horns. If the whole album were this good, I’d have no hesitation recommending this. But it isn’t.

It’s a predictable, archetypical, and utterly unsurprising album from a band that have become a mellow AC/DC: they found their style early, and bar the slightest of cosmetic differences – a little less mumbling, a little more bass, a slightly different drum hit – they’ve been rewriting the same song ever since. You can argue that it is yet another, consistent and durable Massive Attack record that slowly unveils its secrets over the years: or perhaps you can think of it slightly differently, as dense, forgettable, impenetrable, with too many guest vocalists, and too little melody.



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