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.

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Chart for stowaways – 7 October 2017

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  4. Kraftwerk – Computerliebe
  5. Depeche Mode – Going Backwards
  6. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  8. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  9. David Bowie – Heroes
  10. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP

Retro chart for stowaways – 21 October 2006

Here are the top albums from eleven years ago this week:

  1. Delerium – Nuages du Monde
  2. Front Line Assembly – Artificial Soldier
  3. Kings Have Long Arms – I Rock – Eye Pop
  4. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  5. Hot Chip – The Warning
  6. Electronic – Get the Message – The Best Of
  7. Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  8. Massive Attack – Collected
  9. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  10. Conjure One – Extraordinary Ways

Artist of the Week – Everything But The Girl

Time now for the last of our old artists of the week. As always, please accept my apologies for errors, plagiarism, laziness, greed, or anything else that might annoy you!

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn formed Everything But The Girl way back in 1984, after each releasing a solo album. Throughout the 1980s, they scored numerous minor hit singles and albums, but their biggest hits were always cover versions, including 1988’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It. In 1992, Ben Watt famously came very close to death, suffering for over a year from a near-fatal illness.

Their return in 1994 with Amplified Heart saw them carefully examining different musical directions, but it was at the end of the year when they worked with Massive Attack on the Protection album, and this saw them head into the world of dance music. Todd Terry‘s 1995 remix of Missing propelled them to the top end of the charts, providing them with their biggest hit, and the following year they returned with the Walking Wounded album, with numerous substantial hits.

In 1998 they wored with Deep Dish on The Future of the Future, and this saw them heading deeper and darker into house and drum and bass territory. 1999’s Temperamental album was a deep and dark affair, with extensive exploratory tracks but a few accessible moments.

Since then they seem to have faltered somewhat as a band, but of course they are now married with children. Ben Watt spent three years running the Lazy Dog club in London, and continues to put out individual deep house tracks on small independent labels including his own Buzzin’ Fly label. They’ve also put out their third singles compilation Like the Deserts Miss the Rain, and, more recently, an astoundingly good remix album, Adapt or Die.

Retro chart for stowaways – 20 May 2006

While I’m still away on my holidays, here are the top 10 albums from eleven years ago:

  1. Massive Attack – Collected
  2. Goldfrapp – Supernature
  3. William Orbit – Hello Waveforms
  4. I Monster – Neveroddoreven
  5. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel
  6. Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor
  7. Röyksopp – The Understanding
  8. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  9. Röyksopp – Röyksopp’s Night Out
  10. Sugababes – Taller in More Ways

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I don’t know, you wait eight years for a new Jean-Michel Jarre album, and then three turn up at once. Sorry, I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but it is amusingly apposite. The fun but definitely questionable Téo & Téa (2007) left a slightly iffy taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and apart from the re-recorded and questionably legal version of Oxygène that followed the same year, there was then an extended silence until 2015.

What he was doing, it turns out, was working with every other electronic musician under the sun to create a two volume album, Electronica. The first opens with the sweet title track The Time Machine, with Boys Noize, and then comes one of the opening singles, Glory, with M83. So far, so pleasant.

Both of these albums have been criticised for being a bit disjointed, which, while not entirely unfair, seems a bit of an odd thing to say – of course they are, they’re effectively compilations of collaborations. But the sequence is generally logical, and there isn’t really anything particularly bad on here, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Fellow French musicians Air turn up next, for Close Your Eyes. Some tracks seem to have a lot more of Jarre, and others have a lot more of his collaborators on them, and in general, this one ends up sounding like Air might if they employed Jarre as a producer. That is to say, pretty good.

The first time you can really call something here “brilliant” is on the two parts of Automatic, both collaborations with Vince Clarke. For Clarke, this sounds a lot like his recent solo and collaborative electronic projects, but Jarre’s influence is clearly audible here too, particularly in Part 2, and both halves of the track really are excellent.

The increasingly great Little Boots turns up next, pretty much the only musician other than Jarre to make the laser harp part of their live show, and their collaboration is If..! (yes, two dots). While it’s certainly true that Jarre did something on this one, it’s difficult to know exactly what, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

They keep coming – Immortals, with Fuck Buttons, is an excellent meeting of minds, and while Suns Have Gone with Moby may not be the high point of either artist’s career, you have to be glad that it happened.

It is undeniably an odd list of collaborators though – which is not to say that Gesaffelstein shouldn’t be here – after all, why not? Few might put him in their top thirty living artists of all time list, but the resulting track Conquistador is pretty good. This isn’t so true of Travelator (Part 2) (there doesn’t appear to be a part 1), with Pete Townshend, which I’m not convinced does the legacy of either great musician any particular favours.

That isn’t true of what is apparently Edgar Froese‘s last recorded work, Zero Gravity, which after so many decades finally brings us the joint credit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and it’s ever bit as excellent as it should be. It’s also nice to see Jarre revisiting his earlier musical partner Laurie Anderson for the decidedly odd Rely on Me.

Where these two albums both go a little astray for me is with the number of tracks – they’re varied, but after thirteen pieces of music and with no end in sight, you’re always going to be a little weary. Towards the end of the first volume, we get a fun trance excursion with  Armin van BuurenStardust, followed by the weirdly dubby Watching You, with 3D from Massive Attack.

Right at the end, John Carpenter turns up for the appropriately creepy A Question of Blood, and finally pianist Lang Lang accompanies an atmospheric piece on album closer The Train & The River. It’s a long, varied, and complex album, but in general it stands well on its own, and if you consider yourself a fan of any sort of electronic music, you should probably be a fan of this.

You can find part 1 of the Electronica project at all major retailers.