Saturday, April 6, 2013

Massive Attack's Mezzanine: It Sounds All Right, But Adds Up To Very Little.

The Good: Moments of sound, Moments of vocals
The Bad: Monotonous, Frequently incomprehensible or thuggish, Frontloaded
The Basics: Early moments of musical intrigue are undone by a bland and repetitive second half on Mezzanine, another trip-hop bore.

Even as I write this review of the Massive Attack album Mezzanine, I find myself thinking that at some point I am likely to look back at my reviews of the albums of Massive Attack and thing "I was a bit hard on them." I doubt this will be any consolation to them, but I think I am to the point where I can admit that trip-hop, at least the Massive Attack version of it, is not my cup of tea.

Even after listening to one of their "Best Of" albums and other albums by Massive Attack, I think I was hoping for something different when picking up Mezzanine. Trip-hop appears to be the genre of mumbled techno music for stoners. I began to write a sentence comparing trip-hop to rap in the genesis stages, but the truth is it formed a muddled analogy: trip-hop and rap/hip-hop seem to have about the same value on production elements while Massive Attack's trip-hop employs a wider array of instrumentals, actual melodies, and does not seem to be so much about getting the listener to dance, sway or knock up bitches (Yo!), but rather to lay there in the cloud of one's own weed smoke and get mellow. That's the best I've got: rap and hip-hop promote an active drug culture, trip-hop is the lazy stoner's music to get high by. And unlike something like Daniel Powter (eponymous debut reviewed here!) this style never seemed to cross over into the mainstream Top 40. A real shame, that.

With eleven tracks, coming in at 63:46, Mezzanine is Massive Attack's laziest album yet - at least of the ones I have reviewed. The trio of Robert Del Naja, Grant Marshall and Andrew Vowles contributed the least original content to this work of any of their albums to date. Of the eleven songs, only eight are by the trio and one of the other ones ("Exchange") is repeated twice on the album. As near as I can gather, "Exchange" is based on an Isaac Hayes track (written by Hilliard and Garson) and "Man Next Door" might be based on a song by The Cure. The liner notes to this album are not terribly useful, as they include large photographs of beetles and Rorschach ink blots as opposed to things like lyrics.

Sadly, though, in addition to only writing or (mostly) co-writing eight of the tracks, members of the trio that comprises the core of Massive Attack is credited with co-programming the album and playing only the keyboards. Members of the band play no other instruments and two of the three provide vocals, but on which songs is unclear. They hire out to Elizabeth Fraser, Sara Jay and Horace Andy for some of the vocals.

The album Mezzanine is characterized by poor lyrics sung in an ill-defined way. On "Man Next Door," for example, the lead vocalist sounds like he is being tormented, perhaps by being crushed at inopportune moments while singing the song. The only saving grace for the song is that it doesn't seem to have any creative input from any member of the band (except perhaps in the singing).

"Group Four" is indicative of the inane lyrics the group came up with on this outing. I like poetry, but I suppose I like my poetry to make some sense and say something, other than "dude, I am so high right now!" That's the best I can get out of such lines as "A flask I drink of sober tea / While relay cameras monitor me / And the buzz surrounds it does / Buzz surrounds / Buzz surrounds / Closed eyed sky wide open / Unlimited girl unlimited sigh / Elsewhere / Indefinitely / Far away / Magnifies and deepens / Ready to sing /My sixth sense peacefully placed on my breath / And listening" ("Group Four"). Moreover, no matter what poetry might appear on the page, it is hardly presented in a melodic or intriguing way.

As with their other albums, the group seems obsessed with at least trying one ridiculously simple rap and on this album it is Mezzanine. The group doesn't seem to have anything special to say on the song though and instead it becomes another blase song with boring rhymes like "You'd agree it's a typical high / You fly as you watch your name go by / And once the name goes by / Not thicker than water nor thicker than mud / And the eight k thuds it does / Sunset so thickly / Let's make it quiet and quickly / Don't frown / It tastes better on the way back down" (Mezzanine). Add to that Mezzanine is terribly repetitive with the line "All these have flaws" being repeated far too many times to be even aurally interesting by the end.

The exception to the inane lyrics comes on "Dissolved Girl." On that track, Sara Jay hauntingly sings "I need a little love to ease the pain / It's easy to remember when it came / 'Cause it feels like I've been / I've been here before / You are not my savior / But I still don't go / Feels like something / That I've done before / I could fake it / But I still want more" ("Dissolved Girl") and it connotes a strong sense of desire and a very basic human need to connect. The song works beautifully, despite a somewhat limited rhyme scheme.

The instrumental tracks on Mezzanine show a limited sense of musical ability which is better than the alternative, I suppose. The synths on "Exchange" are melodic at worst, though the drum track gets tiresome. The instrumentals are mildly reminiscent of tracks by Moby and they work well to establish a mood that is consistent with the rest of the album, save that there are no garbled vocals overwhelming them.

As with their other albums, these songs are collections of computerized electronic music sounds played at a slow tempo. This is exactly what one might expect the soundtrack to be in a film as it slowly pans through a crackhouse. For those of us not into that sort of thing, it's pretty boring. This album is perhaps best known for "Teardrop," which is the theme song to the television series House, M.D. It's not worth picking up this album for just the one song.

The album opens well, but after eleven listens to the album, everything after "Inertia Creeps" is musical jelly and entirely forgettable. It's hard to get excited about an album where the best tracks (the only ones on the "Best Of" album) are all right up front. Indeed, for those considering this album, one might as well go with Collected instead; the group's idea of the strongest tracks are on there and they are the most memorable of the vague, indistinct tracks on this album.

The best track is "Angel," the low point is "Man Next Door."

For other Artist Of The Month works, please check out my reviews of:
Actually - Pet Shop Boys
Seal (2) – Seal
Forty Licks - The Rolling Stones


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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