Massive Attack: Heligoland Review
If you are looking to hear some truly mind blowing artistic progression from one of your favorite Trip Hop progenitors, look no further than…Portishead’s Third. Sadly the same cannot be said of Massive Attack’s first album in seven years, Heligoland. Though the duo of 3D and Daddy G have scored a whole bevy of first class collaborators, they have yet to really find the next step in their evolution from massively influential Nineties’ luminaries to whatever it is that can bring their sound into the 21st Century. While Heligoland is by no means terrible, the bell curve of delivery vs. expectations does not treat it kindly.
Let’s start with the positives though: the record begins with a not altogether bad Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio) collaboration “Pray for Rain.” Pray’s melancholy piano chords are well matched to Tunde’s unmistakable growly baritone, and the song does a nice job of fitting some rhythmic and tonal shifts into the (still overly long) track. Throughout the song though the hand at the tiller really never lets it stray much out of the safe-sounding zone, as if the once genre defining group is now afraid to take chances. Same goes for the Martina Topley Bird and Hope Sandoval paired tracks – very pretty sounding but not all that memorable. Both singers seem like such obvious choices for Massive Attack collaborations (sultry, breathy vocalists) that it is somewhat of a surprise that the group didn’t try and confound expectations more (rumored collaborators that never materialized like Patti Smith or Tom Waits could have made a much bigger impact).
Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) could have cranked things up as well, but much like his last Massive Attack collab on 100th Window, he seems pretty content to just go with the flow. Massive Attack de facto member Horace Andy also punches his sprechgesang card on a few tracks, most notably but not exactly magnificently on “Splitting the Atom.” The award for most disappointing guest appearance however, goes to Elbow’s Guy Garvey for his turn in “Flat of the Blade,” a bizarrely aimless jumble of lyrics over a toothless assortment of synths and beeps.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Heligoland is the fact that it is soon slated to go under the remix knife by dubstep maestro Burial. While he won’t exactly have too many pearls to work with, hopefully they can be strung a little more strikingly by someone who is ready to bang a few more pots and pans and maybe even break a thing or two.
— Jon Behm