Mezzanine is an album to commit suicide to.
One of the most depressive statements ever from Bristol, the smoky slave port of British Empire, currently ruled by dealers, pushers, immigrants relegated to slums and cyberpunks.
Needless to say, it was one of the towering releases of the 1990s. Arguably, what else could MASSIVE ATTACK achieve, after releasing the perfect R&B album for the digital age (Blue Lines) and topping it all with the hermetically sealed beauty of Protection?
A monumental downer, ambiguous, wounds opening, times falling behind castles made of sand.
I've waited years for this opportunity to put an end to...Miserable music. Music that make you feel miserable, even though is light-hearted. This is music that turns misery into dignity. You feel bad, but it sounds good. Dostoyevski once stated that whereas happy families are all the same, sad families have sadnesses of their own. MASSIVE ATTACK is this kind of feeling sad in a natural way. Since Protection I counted the ticks until one day the anxiety was gone.
The caged nightmare has its early release with menacing Angel, a sinister Reggae-Industrial number punctuated by blurred guitars, spiky beats and the uncanny falsetto of HORACE ANDY, Jamaica's number 1. His lovely statements quickly converge to relentless obsession. It was a perverse doppelganger - MASSIVE ATTACK turning itself inside-out through a twisted Rock take on a Reggae standard.
The debased ether reaches its apex on stoned beyond recognition Risingson, a muscular Dub showcase for Bristol's finest. 3D and Mushroom alternate acquiescing ruminations on the slow decay of their beloved smog town. You'd better stay away. You can see the trace of Trip Hop vanishing on thin air. The morbid "Dream on" chorus is the ultimate unsettler. Intoxicating, but it drains hope out of your cerebral cortex as much as it provides novocaine for your ears. Daddy G triumphs.
The breeding of a new life, what usually constitutes a motif for exuberant joy, becomes a statement on uncommunication on towering Teardrop, a morbid, cold fire waltz featuring COCTEAU TWINS' Elisabeth Fraser. The fact one can see the undecipherable angel clearly pronouncing standard English is a minor revelation next to the hermetic beauty MASSIVE ATTACK evokes and words simply can't convey (images barely manage to, even in a stunning video). Life is coalescing around you, poor twisted you, it's more than you can get. The experience of motherhood becomes pregnant with mysteries and hidden meanings that the minimalist soundtrack by MASSIVE ATTACK invokes, not merely suggests. The ups and downs in Fraser's warm voice, herself pregnant, are your lamp down this cave, not words. Daring.
Global confusion is conveyed through the cosmopolitan superficiality in Inertia Creeps, Mezzanines most ambitious statement if you can say that. In the grey hours of unnamed nights, people everywhere fight their modern demons to varying, but equally surrending, soundtracks. MASSIVE ATTACK's greatest feat was to bundle these laments altogether to convey the manifold dynamics of millenniums depression and apathy. It's epic, transglobal monotony. The threefold show how can you turn percussion inside-out to an endless accumulation of distraught. Turkish, Indian and African percussion are displayed to fine effect. It's the most varied number in this remarkable set of lightning and shadow. England ruling our pathos.
Take my breath away, MASSIVE ATTACK. After the stunning opening quartet, a surprisingly light-hearted and straightforward Jazz instrumental called Exchange. It reminds me of DEPECHE MODE's fixation with Jazz in their instrumental titles. But this belongs to where sound meets ambitions. This is a fine, yet humble, real Jazz number, something they have displayed mastery early on Weather Storm, this time sans CRAIG ARMSTRONG.
Dissolved Girl with SARAH JAY (where is she now?) pales next to the remaining sinister teasers and ghoulish come-ons. This is an echo chamber of a Trip-Hop reflective ballad. It seems a study on a future magnum opus that, sadly, the in-fight dynamics and SARAH JAY's rather conventional voice would never allow for. It's cool and menacing, you just can't find astonishing amounts from the former and the latter. To me remains a mystery why the people that filmed Matrix chose this one in special...
Man Next Door, another Reggae standard, receives another haunting, spiky, ferocious mid-pace rendition from the guys and HORACE ANDY. A tale on inner city strife becomes the anti-anthem for the War on Terror. Anyone can be a menace. Whereas the streets of London are filled with the blood of bus explosion victims, whereas Brazilian guys are shot straight through their hearts in London tubes, whereas Iraqis are tortured by Western civilized people, I can hear that childish Jamaican voice reverberating through my consciousness. Beats the width of the Thames and a voice as gloomy as the Tower of London make me lament for my generation, here there, anywhere.
Black Milk I can't listen to since the release of this record. To me it seems a dry run for the Apocalypse. Elisabeth Fraser with an unbearable, stoic, vulnerable voice, an innerving melody which becomes a loophole of despair. Blood is suck from my veins almost immediately as a turn on the CD. The underpinning percussion seems a spasm of lunacy, an aneurysm building on the inside. Black Milk seems a perverted take on a lullaby. I have trouble sleeping since. JOY DIVISION doesn't make me feel that way, for the matter.
The title track is a study on ambiguity and malevolent theatre. 3D is the master of ceremony/MC of this slow chamber of horrors and Mushroom brings listeners to the other side. It seems a compressed, freaked-out slow jam turned backwards. Dub for the scorched Earth. It's a siren song for the 20th century, an anthem of uncertainty and sinful regret. "I could be yours". No man. Unfortunately, 3D's control over the group would only increase and we would have Mezzanine offsprings since, bringing an end to their variety.
MASSIVE ATTACK enjoyed the idea of being a Jazz outfit. Turning their backs on 20th century with sad tarts dripping from their synths, they found a way to make we feel sad with the most influential genre of the late century. Group 4 is another collaboration with Elisabeth Fraser's curvaceous voice, this time in her natural setting, scatting all around to sinister raps by 3D and unsettling, dyed-on-wool mantras from Daddy G and Mushroom. It's not GURU but arguably, Hip-Hop and Jazz gather in a much more interesting way. There's even a translucent harmonica thrown in for good (bad?) measure.
Surprisingly straightforward and humble, MASSIVE ATTACK closes their 3rd masterpiece in a row adding a vocal take to their early Jazz instrumental Exchange. (Exchange) sounds like a haunting afterthought. Like Blue Lines' Hymn of the Big Wheel and their cover of THE DOORS' Light My Fire, it can't stand up and shout next to their companions. Arguably lightly more interesting, it brings more dubby percussion (Five Man Army) and HORACE ANDY steals the show consistently with liquefied Jamaican wisdom. But this is the sideshow, it sounds a quasi-conventional, a psychedelic lullaby (Sly?). Jazz and Psychedelia are good bedfellows, but the real thing resides down there, in Mezzanine's solid, yet vulnerable and rusty, opening section. The record ends in a disquieting, accommodated note. See ya. In the next life. MASSIVE ATTACK is over.
File under: End of the century, life, MASSIVE
Related MASSIVE ATTACK reviews:
MY first ever review, 1991's Blue Lines
* * * * * Angel (with HORACE ANDY)
* * * * * Risingson
* * * * * Teardrop (with ELISABETH FRASER)
* * * * * Inertia Creeps
* * * * Exchange
* * * 1/2 Dissolved Girl (with SARAH JAY)
* * * * * Man Next Door (with HORACE ANDY)
* * * * 1/2 Black Milk (with ELISABETH FRASER)
* * * * Mezzanine
* * * * Group 4 (with ELISABETH FRASER)
* * * * (Exchange) (with HORACE ANDY)