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Ben’s Classic Reviews: Massive Attack and gloomy winters

The album art for Massive Attacks Mezzanine. The albums artwork compliemnts its bleak sound by featuring a crushed beetle. Photo credits:
The album art for Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine.” The album’s artwork compliemnts its bleak sound by featuring a crushed beetle. Photo credits:

I hate winter in Washington, D.C., it’s genuinely awful.  Even if I dislike how cold it gets in my home base of Northern Illinois, there’s one silver lining—snow. Sure, it can get annoying driving to work, but when you’re at home enjoying some hot chocolate and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” while the snow falls outside, it has a special vibe. In this light, I was going to review Bjork’s “Vespertine” and note its beautiful holiday-ish vibe. But, at the same time, I had to get real. D.C. is only ever cold and wet during the winter, and it’s miserable.

And what could encapsulate this misery better than “Mezzanine” by Massive Attack, a cold, dark, trip-hop classic?

Trip-hop’s reputation for being bleak is absolutely reinforced by this record. Massive Attack, which consisted of the members Daddy G, 3D and Mushroom, explored new, minimalist depths with this record. Today, the record is considered one of the staples of the trip-hop genre and the Bristol scene and is considered by some to be one of the best records of the ‘90s (I would also argue one of the best album covers ever—not much happy music is gonna come out of an album with a crushed beetle on front). Standout tracks include:

Angel: The song starts with a minimalist atmosphere, just to crescendo into distorted guitar riffs and generally go through “waves of noise”. The vocals really make this song—the singer, Horace Andy (not actually in Massive Attack) provides detached-yet-beautiful melodies.

Risingson: First song where Daddy G and 3D give vocals (which is surprisingly not often), and it’s probably most well-known for the part that goes “Dream onnn” really soft in the background. Overall, it’s a really good song that complements the extremely strong first half of this record.

Teardrop: One of the great Elizabeth Fraser’s three appearances on this record on vocals. I 100% argue that this is not only the best song with Elizabeth but the best song on this album. The instrumentation in the background portrays a more emotional side to a generally bleak and restrained album, especially considering that Elizabeth learned of her friend Jeff Buckley’s death while recording. Warning: you might cry (fitting).

Inertia Creeps: This is probably the most outwardly creepy song on this album (also fitting). Backed by a strong, present Turkish melody, 3D sings in what is probably the lowest tone he can go to and speaks on his doomed relationship.

Man Next Door: A cover of a reggae song from the 1960s that is blended with a trip-hop beat and samples from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” cover and The Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night.” It doesn’t sound like it should work, yet it sounds incredible.

Black Milk: Fraser’s second appearance on vocals. This song keeps with the record’s overall theme of downtempo bleak minimalism but really stands out with extremely uneasy and strange lyrics such as “Eat me in the space; Within my heart.”

Does it hold up? I would argue that as long as Washington, D.C. keeps having cold, wet, dreary winters then this album absolutely holds up. I concede that this record may be an acquired taste or that some may find the songs boring, but for those willing to embrace the gloom, this record will probably be a great fit. I would also argue that this record is absolutely essential listening for anyone trying to get into the trip-hop genre.

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