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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Massive’ disappointment

    Massive Attack

    Heligoland

    Virgin

    Released Feb. 8, 2010

    Grade: C+

     

    Credit three straight groundbreaking albums for setting the bar too high. Heligoland had to break new ground just to come close to Massive Attack’s previous work. Unfortunately, while it is a worthwhile listen, it lacks the gut-punching urgency of the band’s first three albums. And for the premier trip-hop group of the past two decades, Heligoland, although a better-than-average album, is a disappointment.

    Massive Attack has not lost their touch for creating sinister, industrial trip-hop; they just haven’t updated it since 1998’s Mezzanine. Listening to Heligoland, déjà entendu occurs all too frequently. The ethereal, Middle Eastern “”Psyche”” is one harpsichord away from being another “”Teardrop,”” and the synthetic drone of drum and keys on “”Splitting the Atom”” hearkens back to the violent angst of the far superior “”Black Milk.””

    More infuriating is the amount of empty sound on Heligoland. Massive Attack still knows how to hit spectacular heights, but it takes too long for them to get there. The final minutes of “”Babel”” and “”Paradise Circus”” reflect a group with supreme understanding of layered music. The emotionally resonant combination of piano, synthesizer and pulsating handclaps is as close as an electronic group can get to the sounds of a symphony. Too bad the previous three-and-a-half minutes of the songs are diluted with uninspired vocals and simplistic structure.

    Past all of the underperforming on Heligoland, there remain a few great songs that most bands would kill to have in their catalog. “”Rush Minute”” is the album’s most immediate song. The throbbing blows of the synthesized keys juxtapose the elegant piano notes to bring together the classical and the futuristic. The dense orchestrations of “”Girl I Love You”” add to staple guest vocalist Horace Andy’s haunting wails, with thick keystrokes over dynamic bell chimes.

    Heligoland shines when Massive Attack let their freak flag fly. Opener “”Pray For Rain”” captures a breezy pop sensibility despite its nearly seven minute long combination of grimy junglebeat and jazz interludes. “”Flat of the Blade”” is a spacey, unpredictable hymn with mechanical utterances and an unending sense of defiant experimentation. Each part of the song evokes moments of chaos as well as systematic order. It’s a song that is at once robotic and organic.

    The tragedy of Heligoland is that it is not a bad album. There’s just nothing memorable about it. It shows that even a great band cannot overcome complacency.

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