In between making a fuss as one of the UK music scene’s most prominent anti-war protesters, Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja has found the time to release 100th Window – and with the other two core members of the Bristol band already departed, this looks like his debut solo record by any other name. The question is – does it show?
The immediate answer – well, after a couple of listens anyway – is that it does. Del Naja’s vocals are as smooth as ever, but on this album they’re required more than ever – despite guest appearances from Massive Attack veteran Horace Andy and the distinctive and ubiquitous Sinead O’Connor (see also Asian Dub Foundation and Moby) give some respite.
Special Cases, and A Prayer For England in particular, are the most memorable tracks, and both feature Sinead O’Connor. A Prayer For England’s overtly political lyrics is a welcome relief from the bland boy-girl songs elsewhere in planet pop, and with a droning bass that sounds like an arpeggiated digeridoo it’s as close as this record comes to achieving something as monumental as Mezzanine’s Angel.
There are instrumental curiosities elsewhere – Butterfly Caught features strings contrived to sound vaguely mid-eastern, and the final track, Antistar, has a faraway-sounding sample that might have been strings to begin with but again betrays a mid-eastern influence in its scales, before abruptly ending. It then – inexplicably – gives way to a synth bloop-loop bonus track that lasts for about 10 minutes. Protection it is not.
Throughout 100th Window the production – by Del Naja and Neil Davidge – is exceptional. Sounds fill a vast sonic range and nothing sounds in any way out of place – and yet the record doesn’t have the glacial feel of Mezzanine or the ground-breaking vibe of Blue Lines. In places the instrumentation and vibe chugs along like derivitive Nitin Sawhney – such as Everywhen and What Your Soul Sings – while there are reverse-recorded taps and shuffles reminiscent of Bjork‘s Vespertine (also on What Your Soul Sings).
But with just a smattering of stand-out tracks involving Sinead O’Connor aside, the rest of 100th Window promises rather more than it delivers. It’s not a bad album – far from it – but the name Massive Attack ordinarily indicates something a cut above the rest. 100th Window, for all its technical brilliance, isn’t.