As a big football fan, Massive Attack's Robert ’3D' Del Naja might appreciate the analogy we're about to bestow on him. He’s the Sam Allardyce of music. By that, we don’t mean he’s got a head like a pumpkin and chews gum like a Friesian, What we mean is that in the 15 years of his group’s career he’s signed up, got in on loan, transferred, dropped and generally wrung fantastic performances from a disparate group of characters.
’Collected’ is a neat detour as Massive Attack journey on to their fifth album, ‘Weather Underground’, due next year. A time to reflect on an outfit who, despite more fallouts than the EU parliament, have made some of the most enduringly intelligent music of our time. And, as with everything Massive Attack have done,
it’s always been shot through with coolness.
It was 1991 when three Bristolians with a shared love of classic soul, reggae and hip-hop, released ‘Blue Lines’. 3D, Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall and Adrian ‘Mushroom’ Vowles were part of extended Bristol arts community The Wild Bunch, that included singer Shara Nelson and gravel voiced, baby faced rapper Tricky. These planets aligned joined by a satellite in the form of reggae great Horace Andy and the result was a record later lauded as one of the best British albums of all time*.
Three of its tracks are included here’ ‘Safe From Harm’, ’Five Man Army’ and ‘Unfinished Sympathy'. The latter is arguably Massive Attack’s finest moment, built around a tear-jerking string sample, loping hip-hop beat and Shara Nelson’s tale of jilted love. It’s their ’Champagne Supernova', th.eir ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’;
Only another three albums have appeared Since they certainly don’t worry Graham Coxon when it comes to rivalling the ex-Blur guitarist's tireless work ethic - with each getting increasingly darker in. content and having people fall by the wayside at each step. Nelson went solo after 'Blue Lines', and Tricky did the same at the time of second album. ‘Protection’. But each departing contributor has always been adequately replaced.
If there’s one strand running through Massive Attack's music, it’s their choice of collaborators. On ’Protection’, composer Craig Armstrong later to score for movies like Moulin Rouge! arranged two tracks, while the inspirational choice of Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl provided her vocals to two more. It was the turn of the ethereal voice of The Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazier on 1998's 'Mezzanine', while tribute albums and soundtracks have provided them with the chance to work with Madonna and Mos Def. Their last studio album.' 100th Window’, saw both Sinead O’Connor and Damon Albarn contribute. They can’t ’alf pick em. as they say.
By the time of ‘100th Window’, Mushroom the biggest hip-hop head in Massive Attack -had left the fold, while Daddy G also took a sabbatical. The album’s dark electronica and rockier moments split critics and fans alike, and three years on. i it sounds like a much needed full stop.
Amid all this, the past 15 years have seen them forced to drop the ’Attack’ from their name during the first Gulf War and publicly thumb a nose at The Duchess Of York at the MTV awards in 1998. while 3D was wrongly accused in an internet pornography scandal three years ago.
But music remains Massive Attack’s bread and butter, no matter who's been picked for the ‘team’. Their next chapter. ’Weather Underground’, promises a return to a more soulful sound. New single. ‘Live With Me’, also included here, with vocals by soul troubadour Terry Callier, certainly augurs well. Who else is set to join in the fun?
We’ll soon find out .
01. Safe From Harm
05. Inertia Creeps
07. Butterfly Caught
08. Unfinished Sympathy
10. What Your Soul Sings
11. Future Proof
12. Five Man Army
14. Live With Me