Balcony View

  • Artist: Massive Attack
  • Title: Mezzanine
  • Released: 1998
  • Format: 180g Vinyl Remaster/CD
  • Genre: Trip Hop/Electronica
  • Beverage of Choice: Neetlingshof Pinotage 2016

Take three of the top production minds in the UK, maybe the world, stir in some top vocal guest talent and you get Massive Attack, one of the most consistent and acclaimed trip hop acts to survive past 1999. The production trio essentially wrote and arranged all the music and then recruited singers as diverse as Shara Nelson, Horace Andy, Elizabeth Fraser, Sinead O’Connor and Damon Alban to lend a hand in making beautiful, atmospheric and, on occasion, menacing music.

Mezzanine‘ was the group’s third album and was released to near-universal acclaim hitting the number one slot on album charts in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This kind of music has never been hugely popular in the USA but, over the years, there has been an underground organic growth in affection for MA and especially this album.

I purchased the CD shortly after it was released and immediately believed that it was a modern classic. I recently bought the vinyl remaster LP and it opens up the musical experience even more with increased dynamic range and headroom. The samples, layers and effects often employed to convey a sense of paranoia and melancholy are highly effective; evidence the opening track “Angel” with somber bass line, ghostly tabla, high hat in the upper left of the sound-stage and then drums intensify the mood with Horace Andy‘s distinctive voice almost disembodied and ethereal. Then huge distorted guitar sweeps in and dominates the head-space left and right; the song settles down into the previous groove for a chorus and then the guitars drive it forward again, intensifying the mood and eventually exiting to the original combo of bass and cymbal. Just a wonderfully constructed example of what you can create when you focus on the exact recipe with perfect timing in the cook.

Risingson” references lyrics from both Pete Seeger and Lou Reed songs and is an edgy experience with dense effects, dubby elements and a swirling, echoey feeling. “Teardop” is, to me, the standout track on the album; sung by Elizabeth Fraser (former singer for the Cocteau Twins) who also wrote the lyrics, the track reverberates with piano, what sounds like harpsichord, booming bass, scratch track and drums. Super present and alive with a satisfying emotional resonance, the track smolders and burns for its five and half minute duration.

Inertia Creeps” has a great drum sound with a taut snare and half-sung half-whispered vocals. Menacing and intense, it’s the closest you’ll get to a rock song on the album. “Exchange” is a trippy, dub tune with wonderful upright bass sounds and tasty keyboard samples to create a chillout effect after the scariness of the previous track. “Dissolved Girl” kicks off with electronic everything and then the vocals of previously unknown Sara Jay lead to a massive guitar section that drives hard and then falls back to the electronic swirl. Jay’s voice suits the vibe perfectly and the lyrics are heartfelt and yearning, in total accordance with the music. “I need a little love to ease the pain

Man Next Door” has a certain reggae feel that Horace Andy’s vocals complement and includes a sample from The Cure’s song “10.15 Saturday Night” as well as “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin (uncredited on the album). See if you can spot it!

Black Milk” highlights another guest vocal by Elizabeth Fraser and a pattern sample from “Tribute” by Manfred Mann. Surreal lyrics, surreal vibe; another great chillout song. The title track swirls around from ear to ear on headphones with typical MA lowkey vocals weaving in and through a dense electronic sound with over-driven bass. “Group Four” is the longest track at 8’12” and possibly the most atmospheric in nature. What MA do so well is balance all the elements of a song into a cohesive whole while maintaining the individual impact of each instrument, sample, vocal and effect – this is a fantastic example of their artistry in this regard.

The album concludes with “(Exchange)“, with extensive use of samples from Isaac Hayes and Quincy Jones and Horace Andy’s sometimes strange vocal delivery with a philosophical message that bears some thought :”You see a man’s face. You will never know his thoughts”. The track and album fade out with a vinyl scratch that perfectly encapsulates the old school/new school feeling of this masterpiece. Play loud on good headphones; be prepared to be lifted out of body and mind into the chill zone.

The band was scheduled to tour this year after a long hiatus but, unfortunately, have had to postpone due to the Covid-19 situation. Hopefully they will get back to it once the coast is clear!

Published by Rick Adams

Husband, father, music lover

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