Album review: Massive Attack - 'Heligoland' (Virgin)
A host of special guests on duo's comeback can't hide an identity crisis
They’re all undoubtedly great singers, but the frequency with which they’re used gives the awkward impression that Del Naja and Marshall are a marginal presence on their own record. It’s hard to see the logic of kicking off with ‘Pray For Rain’, a trudge of sombre piano and tom rolls that Adebimpe approaches like he might any moody TVOTR song. Sonically, too, there’s little here distinct enough to leave a clear Massive fingerprint. We don’t hear Del Naja and Marshall at all until track three, ‘Splitting The Atom’ – which ironically comes off like a gloomy [a]Gorillaz[/a] song, thanks to some ska-tinged organ from Albarn.
After a shaky start, ‘Heligoland’ finally begins to deliver. Long-time cohort Horace Andy shines on ‘Girl I Love You’, driving bass and droning horns harking back to the collective’s 1998 album ‘Mezzanine’. The luminescent ‘Paradise Circus’, featuring Hope Sandoval, is as close as the album gets to a ‘Teardrop’. “The devil makes us sick”, breathes Sandoval, over handclaps and chimes, “[i]But we like it when we’re spinning[/i]”. ‘Rush Minute’, meanwhile, is tense and paranoid, Del Naja’s whispered chant raising the pressure a la ‘Inertia Creeps’.
Overall, though ‘Heligoland’ is a puzzling and frustrating listen. Some good tracks can’t hide the fact that this is the stuff of an identity crisis. It’s one thing to call on your famous friends to put flesh on your bones. It’s another if you leave the listener wondering if you’ve any spine at all.
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