Two decades later, Massive Attack's Mezzanine retains its paranoid power | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Two decades later, Massive Attack's Mezzanine retains its paranoid power 

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click to enlarge Massive Attack

Massive Attack

Courtesy the Artist

When a band hit the road to celebrate a milestone anniversary of a monumental album, they’re of course trafficking in nostalgia—and the musicians usually share in that rosy glow with their fans. This tour by UK trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack is belatedly celebrating the 20th anniversary of their beloved third record, 1998’s Mezzanine (Virgin), but in this case the fans may be the only ones looking back fondly—the production of Mezzanine was plagued by intraband tensions, and it received middling reviews when it finally dropped several months after its long-anticipated release date. Before recording started, core members Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, Robert “3D” Del Naja, and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles argued about how to evolve their sensual, kaleidoscopic hip-hop sound, straining their relationships to the point that they were never in the studio at the same time—producer Neil Davidge served as a go-between as the album was being made. Massive Attack’s infighting came to a head after Vowles surreptitiously sent a demo of “Teardrop” to Madonna’s camp, even though Cocteau Twins singer Liz Fraser had already recorded her unearthly vocals; the Fraser version was eventually released, and Vowles left Massive Attack shortly after Mezzanine came out. The conflicts left their mark on the album: Mezzanine brought an anxious edge to the group’s usually chilled-out blend of rap, dub, lounge, and electronic music, leaning a little in the postpunk direction that Del Naja had been pushing for during the sessions. These songs are terrifying and titillating, their painstakingly crafted atmosphere of tension and paranoia paradoxically instilled with warmth—the music seems to offer itself as a blanket even as it summons cold winds to cut through the coziest of comforters. With the passage of decades, the critical consensus on Mezzanine has shifted from lukewarm to positive, and in many ways the album feels better suited to our era than to the one that birthed it. Anyone who’s spent more than an hour on Twitter, unable to look away from the constant barrage of bad news about rising global fascism, white nationalist terrorism, and potentially civilization-ending climate change, can probably relate to the magnetic, paranoid power of Massive Attack’s masterpiece.   v

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