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 Lines, Protection, 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.