Anger. Desire. Resentment. If you've ever been through a failing relationship, chances are you've felt at least a few of these things. You get caught in a tangle with lots of emotions at times like these, and in the process some feelings get stronger than others. It becomes a very fragile time for anyone, and it's often times hard to put sense into it.
Even if you've never been through heartbreak, Massive Attack's third record, 1998's Mezzanine will help you understand it. The album acted as more than just an iconic crossroads between trip-hop and electronica - it also functioned as a representation of a dark and stressful time. The record is full of dark textures that serve to channel these broken thoughts as a way of expressing them for the world to understand.
Prior to Mezzanine, Massive Attack's music was jazzy and subdued. Mezzanine sees a departure from that sound without completely letting go of it; the key parts of that style still remain in the record, but there's a distinctly different sense of movement on this record. Mezzanine isn't searching to relax you. It's trying to make you uncomfortable in the face of something that can easily take you over. Right at the start of the record, 'Angel' and it's dark bassline start getting under your skin as the chilling slither above the track. It hits a massive, rockier section that overall isn't the most powerful, but it certainly feels like a punch in the face when it hits. The subtlety of each track works like this; slow and brooding until something bigger comes in to attack.
A bubbling unease and anger builds up more and more the further along in the record you get. Regardless of if you are going through a lot of stress or something more, you can't help but feel cheated by something, or perhaps, in better terms, feel empathy for someone who has been cheated. It's best heard in 'Group Four,' the slow start to the song and its chilling vocals leave you unsettled, as the anger slowly builds up in the harrowing synths as the rage starts boiling. There's nothing but pure, brooding emotion in this track. It's the brilliance of the album: that emotional swell that makes you feel something, regardless of your situation.
That's not to say this album is devoid of more laidback numbers. Songs like lead single 'Risingson' don't necessarily have a point where the emotion bubbles over and explodes. Instead, the creepy and dark vibes leave you growing in discomfort before leaving it to another track to let them spill over. The album's most popular track, 'Teardrop,' works in reverse; it actually works to calm you down, to remind you that good times were once had. Elizabeth Fraser's calming voice and the signature ambience of the harpsichord that make the song flow are relaxing to the point where you can actually let yourself feel calm.
That calmness comes with a twist, though. It's a memory of a time that once was, but is no longer. Following 'Teardrop' is the sexually tinged 'Inertia Creeps,' and it takes that calmness and turns it into something else. The song is all about desire, it's tribal atmosphere and percussion bringing out a very primitive sense in you. It's dark and doesn't give praise to any loving vibes. It's all angry, and wants revenge. The rage is channeled through simple lines like "She comes / I want to x you," while the recognition that the good times are behind you are grave reminders from lines like "And dreams of flying, I fit nearly / Surrounds me, though I get lonely slowly."
Massive Attack's recording sessions of Mezzanine were a rough time for its members, and it shows in the final product. Mezzanine is the soundtrack to any failing relationship, and it has earned its name as one of the best records of all time. It's subtlety is no joke - whether or not you realize it, the album will slowly weave anger and desire into you, whether or not you've experienced these situations or not. It's an album that has a brilliant way of making you feel unconditionally - that's where it's greatness lies.
Favorite Tracks: Group Four, Inertia Creeps, Teardrop
Least Favorite Track: Exchange
Rating: 90 / 100
Buy or listen to Mezzanine here: