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6 March, 2004

Review: Mezzanine (Massive Attack, 1998)

From the album cover onwards, there's something slightly unsettling about this album; the beetle on the cover is sleek and shiny, but also heavily distorted, and when the booklet is opened, is much larger than originally thought; somewhat daunting.

'Mezzanine' has a dark, even claustrophobic intensity I find uncommon in its genre, though as with most of my favourite music, it's something of a disservice to neatly categorise it. The album has all the essential characteristics of trip hop, but I also hear strong similarities to the richly textured prog/ambient production techniques of Bass Communion, Porcupine Tree or Richard Barbieri, which is probably what drew me to the music in the first place. Even the rather ethereal voice of guest vocalist Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins, and whose voice I immediately recognised as having also appeared on Peter Gabriel's 'Ovo') fail to mask a distinct 'edge' to the music of 'Teardrop', neatly setting the atmosphere for the ominous slow-burn of 'Inertia Creeps', possibly the most obviously satisfying track.

Previously, I'd thought Massive Attack were just another drum & bass act, and hadn't paid them much attention; in fact I still find that little of the material on their other albums grabs me, being either too laid-back or too dance-orientated. Unfortunately, the track that most reminds me of those albums, 'Exchange' appears twice on 'Mezzanine', as the fifth track then slightly reworked as the closing piece. Together, they only account for eight of the albums 63 minutes, so that's not too much of a problem. The tempo is slow throughout the album, but apart from on those two tracks, the effect is somehow sinister in its relentlessness, rather than relaxed.

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