Massive Attack – Mezzanine

It always surprises me somewhat that Massive Attack‘s third album Mezzanine seems to be their best known, and quite possibly also their best selling release. It’s also rather shocking that it celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week.

Horace Andy was always a mainstay of Massive Attack albums, and we don’t have to wait long for his appearance here, as he leads the vocals on Angel. This was the third of the singles from this album, and was pretty much their smallest hit to date, but it’s a good opening track. The mood is clearly much darker than it had been on Protection (1994), but that’s no bad thing.

Risingson had appeared as the surprise comeback single in late 1997, and while perhaps a little unmemorable, it’s easily as good as the opening track, with a similarly all-pervading darkness that gives it a very unusual feel.

But not every track is this gloomy – for TeardropElizabeth Fraser turns up to deliver the vocal, giving it a bit more of a cheery feel than its neighbours. It’s melodic and less spacious than we might be used to from Massive Attack, but no less brilliant. It’s also probably one of their best known tracks after Unfinished Sympathy, as well as being their biggest hit single, although it only just scraped into the top ten at number ten.

The key here, intentional or otherwise, seems to be to try to get all the singles out of the way at the start, and so the fourth track is also the fourth single, Inertia Creeps, released as a non-charting single in late 1998. This definitely represents a return to the darker sounds of earlier.

Exchange is an odd, almost jazzy piece that slows the mood down, but it’s a pleasant piece, but Dissolved Girl doesn’t entirely work. Maybe it’s just because the first few tracks were so different and groundbreaking, but this just feels like a bit of a filler at best.

Still, things pick up again with Man Next Door, with Horace Andy on vocals again. When Massive Attack are good, they’re exceptional, and this is a fine demonstration of that. It’s slow, and full of reverb and atmosphere. By this stage, you’re either deeply seduced by the dark mood of the album, or starting to notice a bit of repetition, as Elizabeth Fraser turns up again to deliver the vocal on the pleasantly trippy Black Milk.

Title track Mezzanine has little new to offer – in the context of the album it helps build the atmosphere, but it’s nothing special. Group Four stands out a little more, but most of these latter tracks are unlikely to be remembered by most listeners. Finally, we get (Exchange), a vocal version of the earlier instrumental, and Massive Attack‘s best-known album finally comes to an end.

This album marks a definite transition between Protection and the follow-up 100th Window, but it does seem difficult now to understand quite why it’s so well known compared to its predecessors. Perhaps it all comes down to Teardrop. Or perhaps I’m missing something obvious here – it’s far from a bad album, but it surely can’t be their finest hour?

You can still find this album at all major retailers.

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