After hibernating for most of the decade, the various originators of trip-hop have reared their rain-cloud-covered heads, but mostly abandoned the signature sounds of the ’90s microgenre, a blend of rap, dub, James Bond scores and R&B played with heavy eyelids in a smoky haze. With lockstep, arty grooves, Portishead practically turned German on their 2008 album, Third, while Tricky has morphed into a two-tone gangsta. Which leaves Massive Attack, the fathers of the sound, to carry the torch on their first album in seven years.
The group’s seductive and sinister minimalism – most recognisable to the masses as the theme from House – has slackened from the air-tight, clinical cool of 1998’s Mezzanine into something more organic, subtle and emotional. For the first time, Massive Attack sound like musicians playing instruments in a room. Rolling, thumping toms and crisp drum kits replace programmed electric beats. The diamond-edged perfectionism may be lost, but Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall have struck upon a new intimacy. The guests do even better: Hope Sandoval raises goose bumps in the patient, sexy ‘Paradise Circus.’
Acoustic guitars even spring up on the arpeggiating ‘Psyche’ and sad love plea ‘Saturday Come Slow’, with guest vocalist Damon Albarn, who also lends spooky carnival keyboards to the Jamaican slither of ‘Splitting the Atom’ The album title? It’s an island the Brits used as a WWII bomb-testing site, permanently altering the landscape. Likewise, this record has shaken trip-hop’s little niche, even if it’s an obscure land that few still visit.
Available now in stores.