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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Moby – 18

It has been suggested by many that Moby‘s 18 showed a certain lack of creativity. Play had definitely been something completely new – and it had taken a long time to get off the ground – but by 2002 we were all well familiar with its contents from every TV advert and film that had appeared in the last few years. Time for a follow up.

But 18 opens with We Are All Made of Stars, which was also the first single, and is undeniably very different from anything Moby had done before, so creativity was not lacking completely. It’s a great song, which owes a lot to David Bowie, and a great opening track.

Jennifer Price turns up next to deliver the vocals for third single In This World, a beautiful track, but very much in the vein of Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? If you were looking for excuses to accuse Moby of repetition, they definitely exist here.

Next come The Shining Light Gospel Choir to help out on the irritatingly similarly named In My Heart. This one is sufficiently different from most of Play, but by now you’ll definitely be finding it difficult  not to make the comparison.

As with Play, there are eighteen tracks on here, and Moby does a good job in structuring them and making them different enough that they flow together well as an album without being boring, but that’s a tough ask with so many different tracks. The big change from the preceding album is the focus on collaborations, rather than sampling old records, and so the soft vocals of Azure Ray make a pleasant change on Great Escape.

However, when Moby turns up to deliver his own vocals against his thick pads and gentle drums, you can’t help but thinking it sounds familiar. Signs of Love is great, but surely he did something like this an album or two ago? Well, probably not two, because that would get you to Animal Rights, but you get the point…

Dianne McCaulley sounds like a sample on One of These Mornings, but I don’t think she is. It’s another great song, but it could very easily have fitted on Play. Same with Another Woman and the sweet, semi-acoustic Fireworks.

Second single Extreme Ways is next, and is characteristic of the fact that Moby really was extremely creative with this album – he just underplayed it very badly. As a single, it peaked at number 39 in the UK, performing less well than several of its neighbours, and yet it has appeared in pretty much every Bourne film ever since, and the Bourne’s Ultimatum remix performed nearly as well on the charts as the original. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with the song – in fact it’s excellent – but perhaps people were a little burnt out from hearing too much Moby in 2002.

Having heard the German single version with Princess Superstar, the album version of Jam for the Ladies, with MC Lyte and Angie Stone falls a bit flat. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it – it just seems a bit dull compared to the reworked version.

Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) is a beautiful piece – it’s built around a sample, so it’s very much Moby‘s turn-of-the-millennium signature sound, but it’s also one of the best, and was a worthy single, even though it failed to make the charts. This is followed by a sweet instrumental, the title track from the album.

It’s worth remembering that Moby was a long-term New York resident, and released 18 just six months after the September 11th terror attacks. But there’s relatively little sadness or introspection on here, until the beautiful Sleep Alone. Written just the week before the attacks, it’s a haunting piece about lovers dying in a plane crash.

There’s a certain sadness to At Least We Tried as well, and then Sinéad O’Connor turns up for Harbour. I’m not actually overly enamoured with her voice, and this is a nice track, but I’ve always wondered if it actually really goes anywhere. After a while, you’ll just find yourself drifting from one song to the next, as Look Back in carries you onwards.

The Rafters is a bit different – a little bit, anyway, with a gospel “mmmm” most of the way through it, and then we’re on to the final track I’m Not Worried at All already, a beautiful closing track, and a very different one to the preceding album.

So 18 may not have actually been Moby‘s second album, but it is a difficult second album, in its own way. It has a lot to offer – it just might have been better regarded if it hadn’t come out quite so soon after the success of Play. If you know his works but not this album, now would be a good time to give it a go.

You can still find 18 from major retailers, at a bargain price.

Massive Attack – Collected

With a new Massive Attack album on the horizon and their compilation Collected celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, now seems an ideal time to look back at the first phase in the career of Bristol’s most legendary group.

Now with a history of nearly thirty years behind them, they had already been releasing albums for fifteen years by the time this compilation appeared, making it a solid and comprehensive collection of their singles from 1991 to 2006. It’s also very difficult to fault.

It opens with the exceptional Safe from Harm, their third or fourth single back in 1991, featuring a magnificent vocal from Shara Nelson. Although less successful in most markets than Unfinished Sympathy, it provided the group with their only US Dance hit, and is an entirely appropriate way to open this compilation.

The baton is passed smoothly to the brilliantly dark Karmacoma, this time with Tricky on vocals, the third single from the Protection album in 1995. There are those who would fault a non-linear compilation album, but if it’s compiled well, a clear narrative and listening experience can flow, and that’s definitely true here, as we move on to 1998’s deeply moving Angel, from their most successful album Mezzanine, with long-time collaborator Horace Andy.

Although it’s from the same album, this is a perfect counterpart to Teardrop, with Elizabeth Fraser‘s moving vocal. Always an exceptional vocalist, she is in her element here, delivering a curious but tactile lyric against the trippy electronic backing. Then comes Inertia Creeps, the final single from the same album, before Tracey Thorn turns up for one of her finest hours, the title track from 1994’s Protection, in its full seven minute glory.

This mixes across to our first taste of 2003’s 100th Window, the non-chart release Butterfly Caught. This was Massive Attack‘s darkest album to date, and this single is hardly joyful, but it has a grimy beauty which definitely allows it to earn its place here.

Definitely overdue by this stage is the iconic Unfinished Sympathy, and the only slight disappointment here is that they elected to include the album version – exceptional, but it’s already been on an album, whereas Nellee Hooper‘s single version is every bit as good, if not better, and has not. But it’s difficult to complain when the music is this good – their breakthrough hit from 1991, it definitely deserved considerably more attention than it ever got.

All that remains now is to pick up the leftovers – some of them substantial hits when they originally appeared, but mostly now better remembered as album tracks. Risingson is another gloriously dark piece, and then What Your Soul Sings with Sinéad O’Connor as the guest vocalist, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t actually a single, but fits rather nicely here nonetheless, followed by Future Proof and Five Man Army, which definitely weren’t singles.

Compilations rarely include particularly memorable packaging, and so this one is unusual – the double disc package is presented in a nice softback book, and the second disc, a collection of b-sides and rarities including the brilliant single False Flags, also turns out to be a DualDisc – flip it over, and you also get a DVD of all the videos.

There may be some surprising inclusions towards the end, and one particularly notable choice of version which you can question, but there’s nothing particular missing from here. Sinéad O’Connor‘s other guest vocal on Special Cases, which was also actually the only hit single from 100th Window is the only notable omission. Perhaps early singles Any Love or Daydreaming should have been on here, and personally I’d have loved to hear early EP track Home of the Whale again, but these are really very minor quibbles.

The last two tracks are Sly, which you had probably never noticed was in fact the first single from 1994’s Protection album, and then the exceptional Live with Me, with Terry Callier giving the group the best vocal performance of their entire career. If you’re ever unsure of how to close your compilation album, you should start taking notes from Massive Attack.

A triple disc version of Collected, with all the same material described above, is still available here.

The BRIT Awards 1995

Alexandra Palace in London was the venue on 20th February 1995, and Chris Evans took to the stage to present the awards, now with a “voting academy” (I’m sure you were just as excited as everyone else was).

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 1994 ceremony here, and the 1996 ceremony in a couple of days’ time.

Best British Album

Presented by Cindy Lauper. Nominees:

  • Blur – Parklife
  • Eternal – Always and Forever
  • Massive Attack – Protection
  • Oasis – Definitely Maybe
  • Pink Floyd – The Division Bell

Winner: Blur

Best British Dance Act

Nominees:

  • Brand New Heavies
  • Eternal
  • M People
  • Massive Attack
  • The Prodigy

Winner: M People

Best British Female

Presented by Jarvis Cocker. Nominees:

  • Kate Bush
  • Des’ree
  • Michelle Gayle
  • Eddi Reader
  • Lisa Stansfield

Winner: Eddi Reader

Best British Group

Presented by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Nominees:

  • Blur
  • Eternal
  • M People
  • Oasis
  • Pink Floyd

Winner: Blur

Best British Male

Nominees:

  • Eric Clapton
  • Elvis Costello
  • Morrissey
  • Seal
  • Paul Weller

Winner: Paul Weller

Best British Newcomer

Presented by Ray Davis. Nominees:

  • Echobelly
  • Eternal
  • Oasis
  • PJ and Duncan
  • Portishead

Winner: Oasis

Best British Producer

Nominees:

  • Ed Buller
  • Flood
  • Nellee Hooper
  • Trevor Horn
  • Stephen Street

Winner: Nellee Hooper

Best British Single

Presented by Lisa I’Anson. Nominees:

  • Blur – Girls and Boys
  • Blur – Parklife
  • China Black – Searching
  • D:Ream – Things Can Only Get Better
  • East 17 – Stay Another Day
  • Michelle Gayle – Sweetness
  • Tom Jones – If I Only Knew
  • Oasis – Whatever
  • The Grid – Texas Cowboys
  • Wet Wet Wet – Love is All Around

Winner: BlurParklife

Best British Video

Presented by Simone Angel and Tommy Vance. Nominees:

  • Blur – Parklife
  • Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy
  • The Rolling Stones – Love is Strong
  • Seal – Prayer for the Dying
  • Suede – The WIld Ones

Winner: Blur

Best International Female

Presented by Jimmy Nail. Nominees:

  • Tori Amos
  • kd lang
  • Madonna
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Sinéad O’Connor

Winner: kd lang

Best International Group

Presented by Des’ree. Nominees:

  • Counting Crows
  • The Cranberries
  • Crash Test Dummies
  • R.E.M.
  • Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Winner: R.E.M.

Best International Male

Nominees:

  • Bryan Adams
  • Warren G
  • Youssou N’Dour
  • Prince
  • Luther Vandross

Winner: Prince

Best International Newcomer

Presented by Tom Jones. Nominees:

  • Carleen Anderson
  • Counting Crows
  • Marcella Detroit
  • Warren G
  • Lisa Loeb

Winner: Lisa Loeb

Best Soundtrack / Cast Recording

Nominees:

  • Elton John and Hans Zimmer – The Lion King
  • Various Artists – Forrest Gump
  • Various Artists – Four Weddings and a Funeral
  • Various Artists – Philadelphia
  • Various Artists – Pulp Fiction

Winner: Pulp Fiction

Outstanding Contribution

Presented by Sting.

Winner: Elton John

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing

Edit: corrected Echobelly’s entry and added Tom Jones’s missing nomination.

The BRIT Awards 1991

On February 10th 1991, the BRITs took place at the Dominion Theatre in London, presented, perhaps appropriately, in the form of a voice over, by voice over artiste extraordinaire Simon Bates.

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 1990 ceremony here, and the 1992 ceremony in a couple of days’ time.

Best British Album

Presented by The Bee Gee Robin Gibb. Nominees:

  • The Beautiful South – Choke
  • Elton John – Sleeping with the Past
  • George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
  • Van Morrison – Enlightenment
  • Prefab Sprout – Jordan: The Come Back
  • Lisa Stansfield – Affection

Winner: George Michael

Best British Female

Presented by Annie Lennox. Nominees:

  • Betty Boo
  • Elizabeth Fraser
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Caron Wheeler

Winner: Lisa Stansfield

Best British Group

Presented by Roger Daltry. Nominees:

  • The Beautiful South
  • The Cure
  • Happy Mondays
  • Soul II Soul
  • The Stone Roses
  • Talk Talk

Winner: The Cure

Best British Male

Presented by Kim Appleby. Nominees:

  • Phil Collins
  • Elton John
  • George Michael
  • Van Morrison
  • Robert Smith
  • Jimmy Somerville

Winner: Elton John

Best British Newcomer

Presented by Jimmy Somerville. Nominees:

  • Beats International
  • Betty Boo
  • The Charlatans
  • Happy Mondays
  • The Las

Winner: Betty Boo

Best British Producer

Presented by Kim Appleby. Nominees:

  • Nellee Hooper
  • George Michael
  • Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne
  • Chris Thomas
  • Youth

Winner: Chris Thomas

Best British Single

Presented by Simon Mayo.

Winner: Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence

Best British Video

Presented by Philip Schofield and Simon Le Bon from off of Duran Duran. Nominees:

  • Adamski – Killer
  • The Beautiful South – A Little Time
  • The Beloved – Hello
  • Betty Boo – Where Are You Baby
  • The Cure – Close to Me
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
  • Go West – King of Wishful Thinking
  • Billy Idol – Cradle of Love
  • George Michael – Freedom 90
  • Seal – Crazy

Winner: The Beautiful South

Best Classical Recording

Nominees:

  • Matthew Best – Serenade to the Music
  • John Elliot Gardner – Vespers of the Blessed
  • Oliver Knussen – The Prince of the Pagodas
  • Zubin Mehta – In Concerto – Carreras
  • Kent Nagano – The Love for Three

Winner: Zubin Mehta

Best International Female

Presented by Paul Jones. Nominees:

  • Mariah Carey
  • Neneh Cherry
  • Whitney Houston
  • Janet Jackson
  • Madonna
  • Sinéad O’Connor
  • Tina Turner

Winner: Sinéad O’Connor

Best International Group

Presented by Shakin’ Stevens. Nominees:

  • B-52s
  • De La Soul
  • Faith No More
  • INXS
  • Roxette

Winner: INXS

Best International Male

Presented by Rick Astley. Nominees:

  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • MC Hammer
  • Michael Hutchence
  • Prince
  • Paul Simon

Winner: Michael Hutchence

Best International Newcomer

Presented by Chris Rea. Nominees:

  • Mariah Carey
  • Dee-Lite
  • MC Hammer
  • Maria McKee
  • Wilson Phillips

Winner: MC Hammer

Best Soundtrack / Cast Recording

Presented by Rick Astley. Nominees:

  • Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks
  • Angelo Badalamenti – Wild at Heart
  • Maurice Jarre – Ghost
  • Various Artists – Days of Thunder
  • Various Artists – Pretty Woman

Winner: Twin Peaks

Outstanding Contribution

Presented by Terry Ellis.

Winner: Status Quo

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing