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"I'm a little curious of you in crowded scenesWhy don't you close your eyes and reinvent me?"
And how serene your friends and fiends
We flew and strolled as two eliminated gently
—Massive Attack, "Mezzanine"
Massive Attack are a Bristol-based band formed out of the Wild Bunch soundsystem in the late 1980s, credited with creating the genre of trip-hop along with contemporaries Portishead (and arguably DJ Shadow too).
They don't much like being pigeonholed into the label of "trip-hop," though, which is probably why every album they've made so far is a New Sound Album. Their 1991 debut Blue Lines represented the aforementioned launch of trip-hop. Protection (1994) added more reggae, dub and soul influences to go with a more elaborate production. Mezzanine (1998) attracted an Alternative Rock audience, thanks to its Darker and Edgier sound and addition of harsher beats and grungey riffs. 100th Window (2003) continued the Darker and Edgier bent of Mezzanine, but dialed down the alt-rock influences. Their most recent album Heligoland (2010) sort of returns to their minimalist Blue Lines sound but remains just as grimdark as the previous three.
The group's original line-up consisted of Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grantley "Daddy G" Marshall and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles. Vowles left the group after the release of 1998's Mezzanine, citing creative differences. Massive Attack are well-known for featuring a large number of guest vocalists in their songs; reggae singer Horace Andy has appeared on all of their albums and Tricky performed on Blue Lines and Protection before leaving for a solo career. Other similar collaborators have included Shara Nelson (Blue Lines), Tracey Thorn and Nicolette (Protection), Elisabeth Fraser and Sara Jay (Mezzanine), Sinéad O'Connor and Damon Albarn (100th Window), and Tunde Adebimpe, Hope Sandoval and Damon Albarn (Heligoland).
- Blue Lines (1991)
- Protection (1994)
- Mezzanine (1998)
- 100th Window (2003)
- Heligoland (2010)
Massive Attack provide examples of:
- Auto-Tune: Used to disturbing but awesome stylistic effect on "Butterfly Caught." Del Naja's already creepy whisper is shifted to such perfect pitch that he sounds entirely inhuman.
- BSOD Song: "False Flags."
- Creepy Monotone: The aforementioned "Butterfly Caught."
- Cover Version: Most obviously, a horrible live one of The Doors' "Light My Fire" on Protection. Several other songs ("Be Thankful for What You've Got", "Man Next Door") are covers of much less well-known originals, while "Angel" is a version of vocalist Horace Andy's earlier song "You Are My Angel".
- Darker and Edgier: Mezzanine.
- Every Episode Ending: "Atlas Air" closes every show of the Heligoland tour.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Sly".
- Greatest Hits Album: Collected, released in 2006.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: "Teardrop" has a beat reminiscent of one.
- I Am the Band: Del Naja has at points been the only active member of Massive Attack for various reasons, including creative disagreements. 100th Window was conceived largely by Del Naja and producer Neil Davidge in the period after Vowles left the group and Marshall took a sabbatical to raise his daughter.
- Instrumentals: "Weather Storm" and "Heat Miser" on Protection, as well as the first track that's titled "(Exchange)" on Mezzanine (which later appears with a vocal track at the end of the same album).
- Intercourse with You: Lots of veiled sexual imagery, especially on Mezzanine.
- Mama Bear: "Safe From Harm." "If you hurt what's mine... I'll sure as hell retaliate."
- Mood Whiplash: "Atlas Air" alternates between insanely catchy keyboards and dark, whispered vocals.
- New Sound Album: Every single one.
- Non-Appearing Title: Frequently.
- Sampling: Also frequently. The original version of Mezzanine's "Black Milk" led to a lawsuit from Manfred Mann, whose Earth Band song "Tribute" was used as a base without permission - Del Naja explained that they were led to believe that their sample fell within "fair use" limits and were surprised to discover they had sampled the entire song; later releases on Collected retitled the song "Black Melt" and replaced "Tribute" with a different sample.
- The Oner: The video for "Unfinished Sympathy" is one of the earliest music videos to use this technique, with vocalist Shara Nelson walking down a Los Angeles street. It was later paid homage to in The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" with Richard Ashcroft in London.
- Power of Trust + The Power of Love: "Protection".
- Protest Song: Massive Attack has occasionally veered into more political territory since 100th Window, whose title is itself an allusion to a book on Internet security and privacy. "False Flags" mentions riots in Europe, while "Atlas Air" is about the alleged CIA extraordinary rendition program. Heligoland's working title was Weather Underground, in reference to the radical organization.
- Real Song Theme Tune: Most notably, House uses an instrumental cut of "Teardrop" as its theme. In addition, the band's songs are commonly used in media, even though not neccesarily for theme tunes.
- Self-Deprecation: This interview.
3D: "My range has got an eight octave whisper and that's it. That's all I can do!"
- Soprano and Gravel: Due to the number of female vocalists featured on their albums. Very obvious in songs like "Group Four".
- Stage Names: For all of their members.
- Surreal Music Video: "Karmacoma" has a large number of tributes to The Shining. "Teardrop" features a CGI fetus lip-syncing to Elizabeth Fraser's vocals. "Butterfly Caught" is a man sitting in his room as a butterfly tattoo on his face metamorphoses and eventually spreads over his entire body.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Frequent.