By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
Heligoland is the fifth album from Massive Attack and the first full-length album that they’ve put out in seven years. Seven years. Seriously. In every year since 2003’s 100th Window (except, for some reason, 2006), there have been rumors that this album, commonly referred to as “LP5,” would be released, but it wasn’t reported as finished until after last year’s Splitting the Atom EP came out. In the hiatus between albums, they focused on writing the scores for the movies Danny the Dog, Bullet Boy, In Prison My Whole Life, Battle in Seattle and Trouble the Water. Of these soundtracks, only the first, Danny the Dog (the movie was renamed Unleashed in the US) was specifically linked to Massive Attack by name…presumably for branding reasons.
In addition to the six guest artists that lend their talents to various songs on this album, there are about a dozen artists that recorded material in the time after 100th Window, but, mysteriously, none of it shows up on Heligoland. Of the tracks that actually ended up on this album, there are only two that should have been rethought…and they both already appeared on Splitting the Atom. The “Flash Treatment” of “Psyche” works much better than this version and “Flat of the Blade” was preferable when they called it “Bulletproof Love.” It would have been nice if they just let the songs from that EP exist without a connection to this new album. “Pray For Rain” was average on the EP and it remains average here, but – in their defense – the only other so-so song is “Saturday Come Slow.” Everything else on this album is really good, and – in one specific case – even better: Hope Sandoval is the guest artist on “Paradise Circus,” a song that ranks with “Angel,” “I Against I” and “Teardrop” as one of the greatest that Massive Attack has ever recorded.
It seems like most people can’t talk about Massive Attack without also referencing Portishead and – more specifically – they can’t mention this new album without talking about Third. Third was a huge disappointment compared to their previous material, and scored at least 20 points below any of their other releases. Sure, Portishead reinvented their sound…but the new sound was a lesser manifestation of what had come before. It wasn’t a reinvention on the same scale as, say, The Joshua Tree to Achtung, Baby and it definitely wasn’t a jump in quality on the same scale as Protection to Mezzanine. Heligoland definitely hasn’t broken any new ground, but a solid release is better than a disappointing reinvention. This album scores second only to 1998’s Mezzanine, which is a significant task and, while the wait was a long one, it has proven to be worth it.