The trend towards musical synthesis in the 1980s reached its first truly groundbreaking plateau with Massive Attack’s Blue Lines from the beginning of the 1990s. Soulful and seamless, this record influenced dance and pop throughout the decade to follow as well as spawning an entire sub-genre – trip-hop. Massive Attack were hardly prolific though, and 100th Window, released in 2003 was only their fourth album. Only one member of the original group remained, Robert del Naja, and the record was relatively coolly received with many criticizing it for its apparent similarity to 1998’s Mezzanine.
But I remember a similar backlash against their second album, Protection. That album has only grown in stature over the years though, even allowing that it is not quite as good as Blue Lines, and I feel the same will happen with 100th Window.
100th Window is easily Massive Attack’s most spacey recording, with a clear ambient aesthetic underpinning the material. The beats are much less insistent, and it seems clear to me that the influence of 1990s artists such as Aphex Twin has been taken on board. Some of the cuts are almost Pink Floydian (at their most spacey) or similar to Disintegration-era Cure, sharing the long introductions, harmonic stasis and drone effects. It’s a very dark record, almost unremittingly gloomy, and even Sinead O’Connor’s (perhaps not an ideal vocalist for this band) songs fail to break the mood. Nonetheless, despite the darkness, the feel is different from vintage Cure or Joy Division. For despite its apparent sparseness, the music is more inventive and richly colored – one of Massive Attack’s greatest strengths and not lost here. The rhythms are complex and insistent; this is definitely a groove record despite a retreat from more overt dance influences. The record repays repeated listening and remains attractive.
No, it’s not as stunning as Mezzanine was, but it’s just as good as Protection, and it is definitely worth owning.