Born in 1988 from UK soundsystem culture and the partying collective The Wild Bunch and continuing today are Massive Attack. From the mid-1980s onward they have dominated club culture in their home city of Bristol. Core trio, graffiti artist - rapper Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, DJ Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall and Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles have been widely acknowledged as the originators -- and crowned kings -- of Trip Hop. They remain synonymous with the Bristol Sound, alongside Tricky and Portishead. Elements of Jamaican culture -- dub and reggae -- and US hip hop, became infused with classic soul and funk samples; vocalists were brought in to rap and sing their own unique, melodic styles over the top. The beat was slow and the bass was heavy. In 1988 the debut single ‘Any Love’ featured Marshall’s toasting and Carlton’s croon of deep longing; fellow Bristolians, Smith & Mighty co-produced the track.
The key components of brooding, cinematic melancholy (historically so indicative of British music), but also Del Naja’s fondness in particular for Ennio Morricone’s ‘Spaghetti Western’ film soundtracks. 1991 saw the release of their debut album, ‘Blue Lines’. Still sounding incredibly fresh today, It sounded like nothing else that came before -- and became an instant classic, with 9 tracks that any music fan will recognise as Massive Attack. Four singles came from it -- including three tracks (‘Daydreaming’, ‘Safe From Harm’ and ‘Unfinished Sympathy’) featuring stellar vocal performances from Shara Nelson. Clever, gritty and soul-flecked samples were integral as were softly spoken raps (almost whispers) from Del Naja, Marshall and Tricky on the title track and on ‘Five Man Army’. Horace Andy’s tender, Jamaican roots reggae vocal graces the track and he gets to conclude the album with ‘Hymn Of The Big Wheel’.
In 1994, Massive Attack released ‘Protection’; toning down the hip-hop edge slightly with even more cinematic, smooth and chilled-out sounds incorporating a modern classical influence. The band brought in composer Craig Armstrong for the track ‘Weather Storm’. Nicolette (on the smoky ‘Three’ and ‘Sly’) and Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn (the wondrous ‘Protection’, ‘Better Things’) were added to the lineup for the album. The dub lineage was still throbbing strongly through the veins and beating heart of the record, and Horace Andy again appeared with the heavy, paranoic vibes of ‘Spying Glass’.
Definitely aimed at the home listener, ‘Protection’ consolidated the band’s position as Trip Hop and Downtempo leaders -- of a rapidly swelling pack. By this time there were thousands of followers of a certain strand of downbeat, and fellow Bristolians Portishead -- who had formed in ‘91, the year of ‘Blue Lines’ -- brought out their debut album ‘Dummy’ in 1994. The following year, a dubwise version of ‘Protection’ appeared in the form of ‘No Protection’ -- it contained a slew of dub fx strewn rhythms from the wildly echoing control panels of Guyana-born producer / remixer Mad Professor.
1998’s ‘Mezzanine’ had darker textures at its core, notably the icily brooding guitar sound of The Blue Aeroplanes’ Angelo Bruschini who currently tours and performs with the band. For many this album is their most cherished amongst the other equally vaunted records in the still expanding Massive Attack catalogue. Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins sings in her unique, ethereally enigmatic way on ‘Teardrop’ as well as on ‘Black Milk’ and ‘Group Four’. The opening track ‘Angel’ with its ominous beginning, Horace Andy’s croon and towering crescendo of beats and guitars set the tone for a record as close to perfection as that recorded by any band before or since.
2003’s ‘100th Window’ featured the writing and singing of Sinéad O'Connor, and the singles ‘Special Cases’ and ‘Butterfly Caught’ at its centre. The band were now becoming more low-key and leftfield; the release signalled a slight shift towards more intentions for drama and film soundtracks. In 2004, the band made their film soundtrack ‘Danny The Dog’ available on CD, and expanded upon the ambient abstractions which characterised much of ‘100th Window’.
In 2010 Massive Attack released ‘Heligoland’, marking something of a return to their trip hop roots with noir-ish filmic overtones. A host of guest vocalists appeared, notably; Martina Topley-Bird, Hope Sandoval, Damon Albarn, Guy Garvey, Horace Andy (once more) and Tunde Adebumpe of TV On The Radio. Sandov