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Massive Attack - 100th Window (Virgin)

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Massive Attack's last album led to the coining of the term "goth-hop" for the increasing level of darkness the band portrayed compared to their previous albums. However, it wasn't really justified, as "Mezzanine" was a masterpiece of light and shade and had a complexity that fared well when compared to their previous work. This time, though, there's no denying that the term fits. The mix of dark moody sounds and sharp electronica on "100th Window" is so far from "Blue Lines" that it's unlikely anyone who didn't know them already would recognise them as the same band.

Massive Attack has shrunk over the years from a broad collective of musicians to just one full-time member, Robert Del Naja, and, unfortunately, this has led to the loss of a lot of what made Massive Attack great. Even the guest female vocalist on "100th Window", Sinead O'Connor, sounds like herself, when compared with how Shara Nelson, Tracey Thorn and Liz Fraser all sounded like part of the Massive Attack sound. Horace Andy, who's sung with the band since the beginning, sounds out of place 'Everywhen', his floaty vocals mismatched with the harsh, almost industrial, sounds backing him.

By the time it gets to track four, 'Special cases', I found myself wondering if the CD had gone back a few tracks. Without any let-up to the gloom, it does get draining and starts to sound the same. Sinead O'Connor is definitely no help here, at times it seems like she's trying to imitate Tricky's vocal style and it just sounds wrong. 'Butterfly caught' is like 'Inertia creeps' without the energy, a lazy track where Robert virtually whinges over a repetitive drum beat that's probably supposed to pick up the pace, but doesn't work, it just sounds out of step with the rest of the song.

'A prayer for England' has Sinead O'Connor singing nicely about the tragedy of child abductions and praying "let not another search be made in vain", but the backing track undermines the sentiment, sounding closer to the kind of soundtrack that precipitates violence in a horror movie. And the album doesn't really improve as it rumbles on over another three tracks, the hint of light on 'Small time shot away' sounds forced, while 'Name taken' and 'Antistar' are more of the same.

To take this album on its own terms, rather than comparing it to previous Massive Attack releases, it falls down too. It suffers badly in comparison to the likes of Alan Wilder's Recoil or Barry Adamson, both of whom mark music equally dark, but with far more complexity and texture than this. This is a pity; after the years of waiting, disappointment doesn't come close to describing what this album is. Massive Attack is not and should not be a one-man band and, when only one man is in control, it's just not Massive Attack. This is one part of what the band should be, and without the other parts, it's not very good.

Donnacha DeLong

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