Elder statesmen of the moody dance genre that used to trade under the facile name of trip-hop, Massive Attack like to take their time making albums — so long, indeed, that they perpetually run the risk of being overtaken by the very people (Björk, Tricky, Portishead, et al.) they’ve influenced.
One of Massive Attack’s strengths, though, is their indifference to passing fads. In a field where career longevity is a contradiction in terms, the assiduously anonymous trio from Bristol, England, give themselves the time and space to create music that lasts. And Mezzanine, their third album proper after Blue Lines (1991) and Protection (1995), shows that their creative edge is far from dulled.
Like its forebears, the record is a richly eclectic, unpigeonholeable artifact — king dubby meets the rockers uptown, with funk and jazz and hip-hop and even kraut rock all showing up for the party. Like its forebears, too, Mezzanine demonstrates exemplary taste in guest singers: no husky Tracey Thorn (who sang on Protection) this time, but an admirable substitute in the shape of Cocteau Twins siren Liz Fraser, together with the unearthly high tenor of Jamaican veteran Horace Andy.
Andy, who appeared on both Blue Lines and Protection (and who has his own marvelous anthology, Skylarking, on Massive Attack’s Melankolic label), is the star of two high points here. The opener, “Angel,” starts like some lean and mean R&B track, then builds slowly through Andy’s haunted vocal to explode in a guitar-heavy chorus. Even better is the ominous “Man Next Door,” a troubled tale of urban angst that brilliantly evokes the pressure-cooker intensity of modern-day Kingston, Jamaica.
There are weaknesses on the album: Sometimes rhythm and texture are explored at the expense of memorable tunes, and the absence of the bizarre Tricky (who appeared on Blue Lines and Protection) only highlights the flat, monotonous rapping of the group’s 3-D. But Mezzanine remains a splendidly mercurial record, packed with amazing sounds and mesmeric grooves — a trip, in fact.