Massive Attack

100th Window (Virgin)

Massive Attack's slow-paced release schedule has made each of its albums a de facto statement on the UK dance-music scene: 1991's Blue Lines practically ushered in trip-hop; '94's Protection and its companion, No Protection, introduced us to electronica's dub roots (not to mention Tricky), and '98's Mezzanine posited group members as composers rather than mere knob-twiddlers. All the while, they've kept the public spellbound with a cinematic and darkly grooving urban sound that links hip-hop and reggae's drive to early post-punk's brooding and noisy 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 laid-back stoner paranoia and upright spiritual drama. The album's vocals let you draw a metaphysical line to the sky. Guest Sinead 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 hoovers 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 mists of dubbed-out synths, potent basslines, and stripped-down electronic rhythms, and the singers claim their songs fully rather than competing with the production. In short, Massive Attack has shown us how to reconfigure the electronic dance-music album into something unique.

 
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