‘Heligoland’, the fifth studio album from UK masters of trip-hop, Massive Attack, kicks off at the Bristol bunch’s typically melancholic pace with ‘Pray For Rain’, possibly a paean to the elements on behalf of drought-affected nations in this globally warm age. Oddly enough, four-and-a-half minutes into the esoterically Middle Eastern-sounding song, the tempo shifts from angst-ridden vocals over rumbling drums to Beach Boys-style harmonies over bubbly synths, then back again by about the five-and-a-half minute mark.
Keeping with the eastern theme, second track ‘Babel’ is a tower of torchsong delivered by Massive mainstay Martina Topley-Bird whose bittersweet singing criss-crosses beautifully with brooding acoustics.
Current single ‘Paradise Circus’ is possibly the lightest thing on the album, indeed lighter than most Massive records before it, complete with chimes that wouldn’t seem out of place on a ‘Play School’ theme and topped with vocals by Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval that drip with saccharine. Other guest vocalists include ex-Blur and Gorillaz main man Damon Albarn (who also contributes strained keys on the aching-for-the-weekend mantra ‘Saturday Come Slow’) and Elbow leadsinger Guy Garvey, who, if he crooned any more depressingly on ‘Flat Of The Blade’ might make the listener want to grab hold of a sharper tool.
Our pick of the bunch? Last track ‘Atlas Air’ (trainspotters note its original working title: ‘Marakesh’) that brings back all that was and is quintessentially large about Massive.
Of course, a Massive Attack album is not an epic affair unless it treks the dark side for the most part. Predecessors to their latest LP including the “in-everyone’s-top-twenty-list” ‘Blue Lines’, the sophomore success ‘Protection’, and impressive hat-trick ‘Mezzanine’, all had deep prose and stirring sonics to thank for pricking our ears up in uncertain times. That the band’s newest recording comes in the midst of a global economic crisis and major environmental chaos – all fallen on the shoulders of a fresh black president to mend – means they’ve answered the unofficial call for the ultimate contemporary soundtrack. Now, bring on the remixes.
‘Heligoland’ is out through Virgin/EMI.