Bris­tol col­lec­tive’s moody, and still ma­jes­tic, master­piece.

Q (UK) - - Contents -

A 20th- an­niver­sary re­boot for an al­bum sur­rounded by tur­moil, but which turned out to be the Bris­tol band’s fi­nal high-point.


As dark, com­plex and weirdly fas­ci­nat­ing as the mor­phed bee­tle that graces its cover, Mez­za­nine marked a de­ci­sive shift for the Bris­tol trio whose era-defin­ing de­but Blue Lines briefly put their na­tive city at the cen­tre of UK club cul­ture. But as so of­ten, in­spi­ra­tion came at a price. Core mem­bers Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grant “Daddy G” Mar­shall and An­drew “Mush­room” Vowles had built their rep­u­ta­tion on ser­pen­tine, dub-in­fused epics. For Mez­za­nine, how­ever, 3D in par­tic­u­lar had other ideas. “I wanted to take a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach,” he com­mented later. “To go back to the punk ap­proach to mak­ing mu­sic, in­stead of look­ing at Amer­i­can hip-hop, old soul and jazz.” This turned out to be anath­ema to Mush­room, who quit soon af­ter the al­bum’s re­lease. Even the record­ing ses­sions had taken place in shifts since they were un­able to bear be­ing in the stu­dio at the same time. Yet mar­shalled by co-pro­ducer Neil Davidge, the mu­sic some­how tran­scended the ac­ri­mony, its ex­per­i­men­tal for­ays into post-punk and elec­tron­ica a de­lib­er­ate re­buff to the din­ner party-friendly trip-hop sound in­spired by Blue Lines and its 1994 fol­low-up Pro­tec­tion. Like an OK Com­puter for the post-rave gen­er­a­tion, Mez­za­nine’s frac­tured in­ten­sity was more likely to give un­wary din­ers in­di­ges­tion. Bol­stered by the ad­di­tion of for­mer Blue Aero­planes guitarist An­gelo Br­us­chini, opener An­gel set the dystopian tone, its mourn­ful melody emerg­ing wraith-like from a pri­mor­dial drum-and-bass loop lit by flick­ers of dis­tor­tion, reg­gae vet­eran Ho­race Andy’s bale­ful warn­ing that “she’s on the dark side” sug­gest­ing this was the kind of spirit out for vengeance rather than sal­va­tion. The haunted mood bleeds into Ris­ing­son, a mu­tant hip-hop evo­ca­tion of Class A para­noia, and the shim­mer­ing lament Teardrop. Built around a spi­ralling harp­si­chord riff and skin-prick­ling per­for­mance by Cocteau Twins singer Liz Fraser, recorded on the day she heard of her for­mer lover Jeff Buck­ley’s dis­ap­pear­ance, it re­mains one of Mas­sive At­tack’s most pow­er­ful and af­fect­ing record­ings.

Yet for all the brood­ing emo­tions, it’s the way the al­bum shifts gears rhyth­mi­cally that gives it real trac­tion, from the still-as­ton­ish­ing In­er­tia Creeps, with its clank­ing post-in­dus­trial beat and Mid­dle Eastern strings in­spired by a Turk­ish belly danc­ing club, to Ex­change’s slow-mo­tion funk, re­worked from Isaac Hayes’s Our Day Will Come, and the coiled in­ten­sity of Group Four, a cryp­tic med­i­ta­tion on the mod­ern sur­veil­lance state play­ing 3D’s twitchy night watch­man off against Fraser’s lonely dreamer. Newly re­mas­tered, the orig­i­nal al­bum’s sonic de­tail comes into even sharper fo­cus and there are var­i­ous vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar spe­cial edi­tions, in­clud­ing a Banksy-wor­thy spray can that con­tains the al­bum au­dio con­verted into a DNA se­quence. But the real draw in mu­si­cal terms is a set of un­re­leased remixes by dub sci­en­tist Mad Pro­fes­sor, six of which were orig­i­nally in­tended for a com­pan­ion al­bum akin to 1995’ s No Pro­tec­tion. Each one is a fas­ci­nat­ing de­par­ture from its orig­i­nal source, with An­gel (An­gel Dust) par­ing the orig­i­nal down to a skele­tal skank and Teardrop (Mazaruni Dub One) re-imag­ined as a cos­mic am­bi­ent sound­clash. Given the tur­moil that sur­rounded Mez­za­nine, it’s not sur­pris­ing Mas­sive At­tack haven’t op­er­ated at the same level since. 3D recorded the dis­ap­point­ing 100th Win­dow on his own and only re­united with Daddy G for 2010’ s Heligoland, a patchy semire­turn to form. Yet the al­bum’s rad­i­cal aes­thetic has proved an en­dur­ing in­spi­ra­tion to oth­ers, from Gold­frapp’s ice-cold synth-pop to Burial’s eerie dub­step. Com­plex, chal­leng­ing and ut­terly com­pelling, even two decades on Mez­za­nine res­onates with a power that’s all its own. RU­PERT HOWE Lis­ten To: An­gel | In­er­tia Creeps | Teardrop | An­gel (An­gel Dust) | Teardrop (Mazaruni Dub One)

Mas­sive At­tack (from left, Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grant “Daddy G” Mar­shall, An­drew “Mush­room” Vowles) in 1998: “For all the brood­ing emo­tions, it’s the way Mez­za­nine shifts gear rhyth­mi­cally that gives it real trac­tion.”

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