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Massive Attack - Heligoland

Massive Attack, Heligoland

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WITH Massive Attack you instinctively know two things: you’re going to get moody and atmospheric music, and a pretty high level of quality.

Heligoland, their fifth studio album, delivers both in abundance. It’s a fine return buoyed by a veritable who’s who of collaborative talent, from Elbow’s Guy Garvey to Blur’s Damon Albarn, right down to former cohorts Martina Topley-Bird and Horace Andy.

The album has been put together by Massive Attack founding members Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall, with additional help from Albarn (who plays bass on Flat Of The Blade and keyboards on Splitting The Atom) and Portishead’s Adrian Utley (who plays guitar on Saturday Come Slow).

Admittedly, you have to be in the mood for a Massive Attack experience but should you enter into their soundscape in that right frame of mind the rewards are plenty.

Del Naja’s past three years of contributing the scores to soundtracks such as 44 Inch Chest and Gomorrah is also in evidence, as most – if not all – songs on the album have a very cinematic feel.

There are moments, of course, when the woozy, stark soundscapes that are created don’t work as well as they might and there’s no one track that comes near to the sheer heartbreaking beauty of Teardrop.

Indeed, the mood overall is very sombre.

But where tracks like Splitting The Atom [a former single, no less] and, ironically, Flat of the Blade threaten to outstay their welcome and get on your nerves, there’s always a moody gem waiting in the wings.

Album opener Pray For Rain, for instance, makes great use of Guy Garvey’s spaced out vocals… emerging as a cross between a sombre slice of mood music for a revenge movie mixed with the world music of Peter Gabriel. It’s a beguiling opening.

Babel, meanwhile, picks up the beat nicely, weaving a compelling bassline around Martina Topley-Bird’s hypnotic vocals.

The first major highlight, however, comes in the form of Girl I Love You, in which Horace Andy’s soulful, falsetto approach drifts blissfully over a menacing backdrop provided by a rolling bassline and some haunting synths. It’s a song about loss… seductively delivered and it quickens the pulse.

The lush folk acoustic opening of Psyche, meanwhile, affords Martina Topley-Bird the perfect platform to drop her honey-dued vocals over one of the more upbeat offerings. She enchants… as does the song.

And Paradise Circus mixes sparse, heartbeat-style percussion and handclaps with a dozy vocal from Hope Sandoval that marks a slow, beautiful awakening kind of track. It has an almost Nightmares On Wax-style vibe.

Rush Minute is pure Massive Attack, as vocalised by Del Naja, and reminiscent of their back catalogue… while Saturday Come Slow is notable for featuring a melancholy central vocal from Albarn, that’s perfectly in keeping with the delicate instrumentation – a dusky slow burner that tugs at the heart-strings.

Seven minute-plus final offering Atlas Air brings things to a close in compulsive fashion, meanwhile, thanks to a slick beat and some lush organ playing, as well as a fine set of vocals from Del Naja. It’s utterly cinematic and an inspiring finale.

Sceptics may argue that Massive Attack haven’t really moved on with Heligoland… but when they’re doing things this well, did we really need them to. This is an album that ticks all the right boxes and underlines their brilliance – as if that were needed at this stage.

Kick back and enjoy.

Download picks: Pray For Rain, Girl I Love You, Psyche, Saturday Come Slow, Atlas Air

Track listing:

  1. Pray For Rain feat Guy Garvey
  2. Babel feat Martina Topley-Bird
  3. Splitting The Atom feat Robert Del Naja/Grant Marshall/Horace Andy
  4. Girl I Love You feat Horace Andy
  5. Psyche feat Martina Topley-Bird
  6. Flat of the Blade feat Guy Garvey
  7. Paradise Cirus feat Hope Sandoval
  8. Rush Minute feat Robert Del Naja
  9. Saturday Come Slow feat Damon Albarn
  10. Atlas Air feat Robert Del Naja