Monday, August 27, 2007

[082] Mezzanine

Album: Mezzanine
Artist: Massive Attack
Release Date: April 1998
Label: Virgin
Producers: Massive Attack & Neil Davidge

"Recollect me darling raise me to your lips
Two undernourished egos four rotating hips"
- from "Inertia Creeps"

I wouldn’t have wanted to be Massive Attack in 1997. Looking back, despite being hailed as groundbreaking artists in the UK and all over the world, any way which they tried to break into America failed. They were a warm-blooded band making organic Soul music getting grouped in with faceless Electronica. They do a high-profile duet with Madonna (a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”), but the diva gets all the attention. They could fall in with the “Cool Britannia”, but if it doesn’t have guitars and/or a white guy with a Beatles haircut out front, then you’re not hearing about it. The second Tricky struck out on his own, he’s all over American music mags. So Massive Attack did what anyone would do to get noticed – they tried to sound like whatever was popular. I’m sure what they were going for was a hybrid of the gritty, claustrophobic street-hop of Wu-Tang Clan and the industrial-glam-grunge of Nine Inch Nails, mixed in with the dub sound they’re known for. They only problem is that Massive Attack is too talented and unique for that to work. So instead the result was Mezzanine, one of the best albums of the late 90’s.

If you’re looking for insight into the sound of the album from the title, don’t bother. They should have called it “The Black Album”, but Metallica probably had it copyrighted and trademarked by then. They could have named it after the song “Inertia Creeps” or just left it self-titled, because they finally made an album that lives up to their name. For instance, the -ahem- massive first single “Risingson” is the perfect aural representation of a smoky, blacklit underground club, with 3D and Daddy G rumbling sexy half-narratives, conjuring elegantly wasted models littering the wrap-around loveseats while the DJ’s spinning cavernous dub. Despite a lyric of a sweet little love song, “Angel” is heavy, thick as molasses, sinister to the core; it is no accident that it's been covered by heavy bands as diverse as Sepultura and Dillenger Escape Plan. Not only is it among the finest album openers ever, it’s ranks among the greatest songs ever, an epic movement of sound that mimics the frenzied feeling that comes with a rush of adrenalin. It lumbers, but builds speed, like a very large man running downhill who knows he can’t stop himself. Reggae great Horace Andy’s quivering vocals try to soothe the savage beast, but he cannot contain it, and it explodes in one of the greatest rages in music history. Its greatness is reflected in the fact that it keeps getting used in film and TV, as does a lot of this album.

The equally menacing “Dissolved Girl” was used in The Matrix but didn’t make its hit soundtrack album, while Victoria’s Secret used the eastern-tinged
“Inertia Creeps” in a line of commercials. The gorgeous “Teardrop”, starring the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, has become Massive’s signature tune, popping up not only as the theme to House and on Prison Break, but also on all those faceless Trip-Hop compilations in the corner of your local Best Buy under Electronica. But while the four singles that open the album are among the best of the decade, the rest of the album holds songs just as strong. Andy’s cover of Johnny Holt’s Trojan Records classic “Man Next Door” is haunting and spectacular, while Fraser owns, classing up “Black Milk” with her atmospheric coos, and later lighting up the darker-than-black “Group Four”, playing foil to 3D’s opaque tale of relay cameras, training in martial arts, and putting keys to locks.

This album is so good, it temporarily killed the band (Daddy G & Mushroom left 3D alone before the next album, though Daddy returned later), and murdered Trip-Hop, leaving the used-up wreckage for Moby to pimp on Play. Actually, I think it bears mentioning that once you’ve heard Mezzanine, you cannot live without it. While I understand that you might be thinking this praise should put it higher on the list, it doesn't change how immensely great it is. Driving during the day with Mezzanine will make you feel like fucking Steve McQueen driving a tank; Driving with it at night will make you feel like Batman. Drinking water while listening is like a reward after days in a desert. Drinking alcohol to it is just fucking wise, as you will all of a sudden be the coolest person in the room, and if you’re already the coolest person in the room, you will now be either James Brown or Miles Davis (your choice), and if you happen to be James or Miles, you are now a god, and will be able to make every human own a copy of this album. Fucking to Mezzanine is also extremely advisable and recommended; almost any sex you have from then on without it as the soundtrack will be forever cheapened and forgettable. Let me assure you – Life is better when you explore the dark corners of Mezzanine.

01. "Angel" [feat. Horace Andy]
02. "Risingson"
03. "Teardrop" [feat. Liz Fraser]
04. "Inertia Creeps"
05. "Exchange"
06. "Dissolved Girl" [feat. Sara Jay]
07. "Man Next Door" [feat. Horace Andy]
08. "Black Milk" [feat. Liz Fraser]
09. "Mezzanine"
10. "Group Four" [feat. Liz Fraser]
11. "(Exchange)" [feat. Horace Andy]

"Angel" [video]

- BONUS: "Risingson" [video]
- BONUS: "Teardrop" [video]
- BONUS: "Inertia Creeps" [video]
- BONUS: "Mezzanine" [live on Sundance Channel's Live From Abbey Road]
- BONUS: "Angel" in Guy Ritchie's Snatch
Starring Jason Statham & Brad Pitt. Brilliant use of the song.

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