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Music / Massive Attack

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3D, Daddy G and Mushroom

I'm a little curious of you in crowded scenes
And how serene your friends and fiends
We flew and strolled as two, illuminated gently
Why don't you close your eyes and reinvent me?
— "Mezzanine", Mezzanine

Massive Attack are a Bristol-based band formed out of the Wild Bunch soundsystem in 1988, credited with creating the genre of Trip Hop along with contemporaries Portishead (and arguably DJ Shadow as well). As with their contemporaries, they don't much like being pigeonholed into the label of "trip-hop," 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 grungy guitar 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. Since its release, the group has released several EPs and singles.

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 Mezzanine, citing creative differences. The group currently consists of 3D and Daddy G alongside Adrian "Tricky" Thaws, who has become a successful trip-hop artist in his own right.

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 again (Heligoland).


  • Blue Lines (1991)
  • Protection (1994)
  • Mezzanine (1998)
  • 100th Window (2003)
  • Heligoland (2010)

Massive Attack provide examples of:

  • Autotune: 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.
  • Broken Record: "Angel". loveyouloveyouloveyouloveyou...
  • BSoD Song: "False Flags."
  • Creepy Monotone: The aforementioned "Butterfly Caught." Hell, Del Naja's vocals are almost always this trope.
  • Cover Version: Most obviously, a 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. 100th Window even more so, continuing from the darker direction of Mezzanine.
  • Epic Rocking: The Burial remixes of "Paradise Circus" and "Four Walls" clock in at roughly twelve minutes each.
  • 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).
    • An instrumental excerpt of "Teardrop" provided the theme song for several seasons of House.
  • Intercourse with You: Lots of veiled sexual imagery, especially on Mezzanine.
    • It's more obvious in some songs than in others — the chorus of "Inertia Creeps" is basically just "moving up slowly / she comes," and a prominent line in "Mezzanine" is "don't frown / tastes better on the way back down." Actually, pretty much the only songs on the album that don't have this are "Exchange," "Man Next Door," and maybe "Group Four" depending on one's interpretation.
  • Mama Bear: "Safe From Harm." "If you hurt what's mine... I'll sure as hell retaliate."
  • Metaphorgotten: "Paradise Circus:" "She will love you like a fly will never love you again."
  • 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 re-titled the song "Black Melt" and replaced "Tribute" with a different sample.
  • Obsession Song: "Angel", of the passive type.
  • 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.
  • Recycled Lyrics: Several lyrics on Blue Lines allude to other songs or just quote them outright, due to the very intensive way in which the album was produced. The title track "Blue Lines", for example, has a line referencing "Hymn of the Big Wheel", as well as "Daydreaming".
    • Tricky's "Overcome" features his lyrical contributions to Massive Attack's "Karmacoma" set to entirely different music.
  • Remix Album: No Protection is a Mad Professor's dub remix of Protection.
  • Self-Deprecation: This interview.
    3D: "My range has got an eight octave whisper and that's it. That's all I can do!"
  • Self-Referential Track Placement: "Three", the third track of Protection.
  • Slasher Smile: 3D at the end of Risingson. And you thought the rest of the video was creepy as hell...
  • 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" focuses on 3D sitting in a room as a butterfly tattoo on his face metamorphoses and eventually spreads over his entire body.
  • Title Drop: "Man Next Door" comes very close but technically averts it by phrasing the title slightly differently ("there is a man that lives next door").
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Frequent, with "Karmacoma" being their most prominent example.