100 Greatest Albums of the 90s: #5

Massive Attack – Mezzanine
What does it feel like when you fall out of love with someone with whom it could never happen? It’s good and bad for the same reason: you’re untied. You’re excited and unencumbered, but directionless; free from wanting something you can’t have, but hopeless and scared from no longer having something to aim for. (And now, ladies and gentlemen, is the moment where I connect a seemingly irrelevant point directly to the album in question with the thinnest link imaginable.) Huh, scary but thrilling with ambiguous, tense emotions? That’s a bit like ‘Mezzanine’. (Ta-dah!) The shadows that lurked across ‘Blue Lines’ are here again, but this time, for Massive Attack’s third, the darkness is grander, deeper and, for the most part, totally enveloping. You’re probably thinking that there are a lot of albums with this kind of claustrophobic, intense atmospheres. What makes this one special? ‘Mezzanine’ has vulnerability. The narrator of each song is always paranoid, obsessive, desperately sad or cynical, but there’s a human-ness about them; an authenticity that makes it riveting. ‘Teardrop’s strong and steady heartbeat drums underlay a poignant grief anthem with lyrics written and sung by the ethereal Liz Frazier about Jeff Buckley’s drowning in the Wolf river; ‘Inertia Creeps’ is a tingling cinematic of obsessive lust set against spirals of joint smoke and flashes of wandering hands. ‘Man Next Door’ is soulfully anxious and anxiously soulful. The crowning glory though is the 8-minute epic ‘Group Four’, in which Robert Del Naja’s raps and Liz Frazier’s silky vocals blend beautifully making them sound like a nocturnal troubled couple. The instrumentation itself is fantastic throughout. Now leaning far more towards live musicians rather than samples, ‘Mezzanine’ sounds more real and vivid than anything they will ever record; every bass courses menacingly like blood leaking across a white tiled floor; every drum beat booms and clicks both sharply and warmly. The band also show they’re breaking out the guitars too, which is a great idea since they’re clearly great with them. It’s lost, it’s lonely, but it’s thrilling and endlessly fascinating; it’s basically a classic with virtually nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t even get too intense since each half is concluded by a four-minute respite of ‘Exchange’ part one and two, which, while being the least inspiring thing here by a long way, slows the album down and makes the record far easier to listen to. Massive Attack have thought of everything.
Listen to: Group Four

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