Massive Attack – 100th Window

Released fifteen years ago this week, 100th Window was Massive Attack‘s fourth album, released five years after Mezzanine. With increasingly long pauses between each release, Daddy G stepped aside for this album and left Robert “3D” del Naja to record it pretty much on his own, with the help of a lot of guests and co-producer Neil Davidge.

It opens with Future Proof, a dark but engaging return to form with 3D delivering the vocals. You could definitely hope for something more pop-flavoured, but not really for anything much better than this. Then, of all people, Sinéad O’Connor appears to deliver the dull second track What Your Soul Sings.

Horace Andy, long a mainstay of Massive Attack releases, turns up for the pleasant but entirely forgettable Everywhen. The tracks here are long – there’s nothing shorter than five minutes on the entire release – and they’re mostly pretty grungy and dark. There’s a certain apocalyptic beauty to this album, but somehow it doesn’t quite feel like Massive Attack. Even when Horace Andy is delivering the vocals.

Next is Special Cases, another collaboration with Sinéad O’Connor. This was the lead single, and is considerably more engaging than the earlier collaboration, although still far from either act’s finest work. Then the second single follows straight after, Butterfly Caught, which is a 3D solo effort, and is pretty good as well (although some of the remixes on the single livened it up and elevated it somewhat). For the first time in a few tracks, the deep atmosphere and lyrical work really seem to come together particularly well.

Sinéad O’Connor is back next, this time for A Prayer for England, which unfortunately comes across as a rather dreary track. It’s a shame given the moving subject matter – it’s about children killed in England during the troubles – but somehow as a song I’m not convinced that it quite works.

Then comes Small Time Shot Away, which adds Damon Albarn as “2D” on backing vocals, although I’m not sure you would ever notice if you didn’t know that. Nothing special here either, unfortunately. As with the rest of the album, it’s fine as background music, but it would never change and inspire the world in the way that Blue LinesProtection, or Mezzanine did.

Horace Andy returns for Name Taken, another of the stronger tracks on here. When this album works well, the deeply atmospheric backing and abstract vocals come together to form a pleasant track. It’s not – let’s be blunt – something that was ever going to get to the top of the charts, but I don’t think that’s what del Naja was really aiming for here.

The album did, actually – perhaps surprisingly, but Special Cases was a respectable hit, charting at number 15 in the UK, and probably with a significant boost from their previous reputation, the first Massive Attack album in five years shot to the top of the charts, giving them their second number one. But whereas all its predecessors have long since reached double platinum status, this one only went gold.

Finally we get Antistar, perhaps one of the liveliest tracks on here, with a rippling arpeggio that turns up half way through. It’s still dark, but it’s a touch more uplifting than most of its neighbours. The good news is that while your music player might tell you this track is just shy of twenty minutes long, it isn’t – it’s about eight minutes, and then there’s a bit of silence before an almost intolerably dreary hidden track that closes the album out, although that does last ten minutes by itself.

So is 100th Window worth tracking down? Well yes – it’s a good album. Just don’t go into it expecting your world to be changed in the way it was when you listened to any of their earlier efforts, and you might just be pleasantly surprised. This is a single-minded, somewhat depressed and introspective Massive Attack, but they still have plenty to say for themselves.

You can still find 100th Window at all major music retailers, including here.

Artist of the Week – Massive Attack

Many moons ago, I had a radio show, which included an Artist of the Week feature, in which I gave some history on the act. I’m including them here because I think they give an interesting perspective, but watch out for any errors or omissions in this piece.

The Massive Attack story goes all the way back to 1983, when the Wild Bunch DJ collective was formed. Based in Bristol and showcasing varied musical styles and genres, they soon started to draw huge crowds. When the Wild Bunch came to an end in 1987, two of its members, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall teamed up with a graffiti artist Robert del Naja, more commonly known as 3D, and formed Massive Attack.

Working with another former Wild Bunch member Nellee Hooper, who has since gone on to huge success as a producer, and was at the time also working with Soul II Soul, they released their first singles Any Love and Daydreaming in 1990.

They soon saw the success they deserved, with Unfinished Sympathy and Safe from Harm both becoming huge hits and propelling the Blue Lines album towards the right end of the charts.

The first album saw great marketing difficulties because of their name, and possible links between it and the first Iraq war, so they dropped half of their name and temporarily became Massive. For various reasons the US tour that followed was something of a disaster, and they disappeared into the studio for three years.

Their comeback Protection is just as essential an album as the first, and, in chart terms at least, was more successful. It brought them three further hit singles: SlyProtection, and Karmacoma, and the remix album No Protection, although rather bizarre, was also a substantial hit.

Following another break, this time of four years, with only the one-off single Risingson to show for it, they returned in 1998 with their third album Mezzanine and three further hit singles, Teardrop, Angel, and Inertia Creeps.

One member down, they returned in early 2003 with their fourth album, 100th Window. Probably their darkest offering to date, it crept in at the top of the charts and quickly disappeared without a trace, with only one hit single and one non-charting single to show for it. More recently, they made a brief visit back to the charts at the end of last year with the soundtrack to the Luc Besson film Danny the Dog.

Chart for stowaways – 2 April 2016

Here are this week’s top singles!

  1. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  3. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  4. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  6. Goldfrapp – Stranger
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre & Little Boots – If..!
  8. Front 242 – Lovely Day / Take One
  9. Massive Attack, Tricky & 3D – Take it There
  10. Client – Radio

Chart for stowaways – 19 March 2016

These are the top singles of the week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  2. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  5. Goldfrapp – Stranger
  6. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  7. Keep Shelly in Athens – In Love with Dusk – EP
  8. Massive Attack, Tricky & 3D – Take it There
  9. Conjure One feat. Hannah Ray – Kill the Fear
  10. Tiësto / Heldens / La Rose – The Right Song

Chart for stowaways – 5 March 2016

Here are this week’s top ten singles:

  1. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  2. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  4. Goldfrapp – Stranger
  5. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  6. Conjure One feat. Hannah Ray – Kill the Fear
  7. Massive Attack, Tricky & 3D – Take it There
  8. Roísín Murphy – Exploitation
  9. The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
  10. Tiësto / Heldens / La Rose – The Right Song

Chart for stowaways – 20 February 2016

Here are the top ten singles this week:

  1. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  3. Goldfrapp – Stranger
  4. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  5. Conjure One feat. Hannah Ray – Kill the Fear
  6. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  7. Roísín Murphy – Exploitation
  8. Massive Attack, Tricky & 3D – Take it There
  9. The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
  10. Roísín Murphy -Hairless Toys (Gotta Hurt)