Massive Attack: Heligoland (Virgin)

7 years after their last non-soundtrack album, trip hop pioneers Massive Attack return with the highly anticipated, strangely titled Heligoland. Having craved a name for themselves as maverick producers for the past 2 decades-always trying to “avoid the obvious” while remaining chiefly British in sound-DJ Grant Marshall (aka Daddy G or G) and graf artist-turned-MC Robert Del Naja (aka 3D or D) have finally put aside their artistic differences for this follow-up to the rather frigid 100th Window.

Apart from the great chemistry between 3D and G (who jokingly said he would “bring the black back to Massive Attack”), and their guest vocalists Horace Andy, Tunde Adebimpe, Damon Albarn, Hope Sandoval, Guy Garvey and Martina Topley-Bird, Heligoland also features drumming from the recently deceased Jerry Fuch.

In general, most people will remember MA by 1998’s guitar-driven Mezzanine. Those hoping for a sprawling return will be disappointed as Heligoland weighs more on electronic psychedelia. Aside from ‘Babel’ and ‘Atlas Air’, which are very Mezzanine-like, most of the songs here go out of their way not to sound like the Massive Attack of the past.

But without any noticeable singles, the whole album plays seamlessly like a midnight fairytale without falling too deep into the chillout zone that defined Blue Lines and Protection. Taking on a minimalist approach, traditional and synthesised instruments such as acoustic guitars, horns, handclaps and actual drums were added into the mix-lending a much-needed organic feel.

Tunde Adebimpe sounds more reserved than when he sings with TV on the Radio on opener ‘Pray For Rain’. But the song is a prime example of how Massive Attack creates their mysterious build-ups. From a sole piano knocking out a chord progression, swelling guitars, synths and drums come in to build the tension like some evil force before resolving into a bright flash of sunshine.

A couple of tracks later, G gives a traditional low boom trip hop treatment to the gothic ‘Splitting The Atom’, which results in something that would fit as the soundtrack to a vampire film noir. Horace Andy sounds like Nick Cave and adds to the creepy factor.

Elsewhere, Hope Sandoval’s hoarsely-sweet voice flutters over a subtle groove that morphs into an overflow of orchestral strings. And Damon Albarn bestows his yearning for love on what might be MA’s best acoustic-driven track.

In an age where electronic music is equated with speed and noise, Heligoland proves that you can be slow and moody while being strangely enticing. And don’t forget sexy.

Listen to: ‘Splitting The Atom’
If you like this you’ll dig: Portishead, Tricky, UNKLE
Rating: 3 1/5

Listen to Massive Attack at www.myspace.com/massiveattack.

Tracklist:
1. Pray For Rain
2. Babel
3. Splitting The Atom
4. Girl I Love You
5. Psyche
6. Flat Of The Blade
7. Paradise Circus
8. Rush Minute
9. Saturday Come Slow
10. Atlas Air