Artists of the week: Massive Attack
Heralded as one of the most innovative and influential British groups of all-time, Massive Attack created an hypnotic sound that informed decades of dance, rock and pop artists such as Portishead, Radiohead and TV On The Radio. Their dark, sensual and cinematic fusion of hip-hop rhythms, soulful melodies, dub grooves, samples and electronic flourishes (or trip-hop) can still be heard today almost everywhere: not only on some of their enduring classics but also in the work of paramount stars of black music such as Kanye West and Drake. In the last decade, however, the band practically disappeared from site and has only 5 proper albums released in the last 25 years. And even a quality vs. quantity approach is not enough to camouflage their artistic decline in the new millennium.
Born from the ashes of DJ collective and sound system The Wild Bunch, Massive Attack formed in 1987 with Robert del Naja (3D), Andrew Vowles (Mushroom) and Grand Marshall (Daddy G) and with the help of guest vocals from Tricky and Horace Andy produced two absolute classics of the 90s: Blues Lines (1991) and Protection (1994). Soon after Mushroom left the band, and the duo ended releasing the dark and bleak Mezzanine (1998), a record that seems to not only emanate some of the gloomiest sounds of the decade, but to absorb all the light around it. What had been a stellar discography begins to finally loose traction with the subsequent 100th Window (2003) and Helligoland (2010), uneven records that mixed some great songs with fillers and really failed to create any impact.
After another long hiatus of 6 years, Massive Attack decided to play conservative in their comeback, releasing Ritual Spirit EP, a tight collection of four tracks that features Tricky, Roots Manuva and Young Fathers, and that is, easily, the best bunch of songs they have produced since their nineties peak. One of the great and unexpected surprises of 2016 so far.
João Pedro da Costa is a web studies scholar and a music fan.