100th Window

Massive Attack pretty much invented trip-hop a decade ago with 1991’s Blue Lines. They then spent the next half-decade shaping their somnambulant rapperless rap from clever Bristolian sound-system fodder into a big-bottomed vision of future soul with 1994’s ethereal Protection, before peaking with 1997’s goth-hop masterpiece Mezzanine. So is it any wonder that now, after writing the book on downtempo and exhausting their emotional palette of sexy angst, frustration and other spikes of feeling on three now-classic records, Massive Attack might sound a little less massive, a little less in attack mode?

Minus more hip-hop-minded member Mushroom (who left two years ago) and with the Clash-loving Daddy G away on paternity leave, MA is now pretty much in the hands of Robert “3-D” Del Naja. His taste for more refined, modern sounds (dusky pulses and soft shimmers instead of bass drops and dirty guitars) makes 100th Window more meditative than definitive. Part of the problem, if you can call it that, is that we’re used to bigger-scale tracks full of breathtaking highs and stomach-dropping lows from the Massives. This time out, things aren’t as obvious. When Sinead O’Connor whispers, “Don’t be afraid to open your heart,” on “What Your Soul Sings,” it’s more a call for introspection than the late-night make-out sound tracks we’ve come to love Massive for. Shit, the track even has a soft gray-noise breakdown that sounds like it was put there as some kind of sonic veg-out spot so the listener can really think about how much they’ve changed. Even MA’s longtime resident reggae vocalist Horace Andy gets with the program, delivering a coldly beautiful, delicately aching vocal over the looping pulses of “Everywhen.” The result is a chillier brilliance, but a brilliance just the same, just as massive, even if the inertia this time out is a little less creeping — or creepy.

E-mail Hobey Echlin at [email protected].

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