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March 2003 Pick of the Month

100th Window
Artist: Massive Attack
Label: Virgin
Length:  9 tracks, 73.10 minutes

While the ironically-named Massive Attack from the UK are undoubtedly the shamans of “trip-hop” music, with their groundbreaking album Blue Lines influencing a horde of other chill-out music merchants throughout the 90’s (Morcheeba, Portishead, Tricky, Hooverphonic etc), they are certainly not what you would call prolific. It’s been five years since their last album, Mezzanine, and a wait that long can sometimes mean disappointment for fans who expect nothing less than divine magic from a group with such legendary status. For myself, there is much about 100th Window that is superb and only a little that is bland. 

Fronted by Robert Del Naja and supported by a constantly morphing entourage, Massive Attack tend to co-opt a familiar female vocalist for each album to add broader dimensions to their music. Most memorable was Everything But the Girl vocalist, Tracey Thorne’s contribution to the 1995 single “Protection” from the album of the same name. (This track has often found its way onto Top 10 “bonking” song lists, giving a good idea as to the vibe of Massive Attack’s music.) On _Mezzanine_, it was Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) contributing to the dazzling “Teardrop.” 

On 100th Window, the songbird du jour is none other than Sinead O’Connor. And it is her contribution to three songs that light up this disc with a spirituality that reflects her own religious persuasions, as esoteric as they may be, and give a welcome clarity to the often abstract nature of Massive Attack’s common lyrical themes of safety, freedom and love. 

Track two, “What Your Soul Sings” exhorts the listener to pay attention to the promptings of one’s soul and the voice of conscience. With O’Connor’s breathy, Celtic tinged voice laid over a slow-pulse dub-trance groove, it is six minutes of the kind of transcendence that Massive Attack have consistently achieved for years. 

The things that bring you down / can only do harm to you
So make your choice joy / The joy belongs to you
Don’t be ashamed to open your heart and pray
Say what your soul sings to you
“Special Cases” is Sinead’s next haunting melody; the undercurrent to an apparent monologue to a young woman about taking responsibility in her relationship. 
The deadliest of sin is pride / Makes you think that you’re always right
But there are always two sides / It takes two to make love to make a life
However, it is on the almost Gregorian-chant like monotone of “A Prayer for England,” fused with a mesmerizing bass-line and drum groove, where O’Connor gets explicit in her Christianity: 
In the name of, and by the power of the Holy Spirit,
May we invoke your intercession for the children of England.
Some of whom have seen murder so obscene, some of whom have been taken.
Let not another child be slain, let not another search be made in vain
Jah forgive us for forgetting, and Jah help us. We need more loving.
You see the teachers are representing you so badly that not many can see.
Jah cause the ones whose beliefs kill children to feel the love of you and be healed
And may we all cry too for representing you so badly
I won’t be surprised if this track becomes a favorite in those hip UK churches that are into alternative worship. Thank you, Sinead, for this beautiful prayer! It’s timely, honest and powerful.

Musically the rest of the album stays true to the unique Massive Attack formula. The vocals of Del Naja and Horace Andy never rise above the level of a murmur, the strings and offstage noises never over-impose themselves on the melody and the beats remain subtle and understated. 

That said, it is apparent that a radio-friendly single, like “Safe from Harm,” “Protection,” or “Teardrop” is a glaring omission from _100th Window_. Sinead O’Connor notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see how the album goes without a really strong single to drive it. “What Your Soul Sings” is great, but doesn’t have as much pop appeal. Be warned, in regard to the repetitive nature of trip-hop, one man’s hypnotic bliss is another man’s boredom. Don’t expect pumping house beats. Your feet won’t be moving much to this latest offering from Massive Attack, but it should certainly move your soul. 

Although perhaps a dark album overall, this is great music for personal meditation, or just chilling-out. If you are looking for something that will let your mind take a soothing escape trip without losing your spiritual roots, then open wide the _100th Window_ and breathe deep the fresh musical air of Massive Attack. 

Brendan Boughen 2/15/2003


 
 
 
 

 

   
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