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Album review: Massive Attack's 'Heligoland'

February 8, 2010 |  5:28 pm

Massive_Attack_240_  At first glance, the lead track off Massive Attack's new album "Heligoland" seems to have done the improbable and sucked the soul out of Tunde Adebimpe. The TV on the Radio vocalist cameos on "Pray for Rain," where a dissonant piano rolls over jazzy drum fills, and Adebimpe gives maybe his most deadpan vocal performance ever. It's a brooding number that threatens to tax one's patience, until the clouds part into a beatific ending of falsetto harmonies, and the payoff is real and earned.

Much of "Heligoland" works like this -- a dour, glitchy intro of impeccable atmospherics implacably winds its way into something panoramic and exhilarating. From the mannered jungle drumming of "Babel" to the funeral synths of "Flat of The Blade," this is Massive Attack's best attempt yet to reconcile their studio-wonk electronica impulses with a not-so-secret desire to be a Radiohead-worthy rock band at points (funny, Radiohead's been on the same path lately).

Martina Topley-Bird turns in some of the band's best vocal performances, with her glassy alto riding the shivery trance synths of "Psyche." Elbow's Guy Garvey, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and Damon Albarn stop in for idiosyncratic turns that the band's huge palette accommodates kindly. And even if "Splitting the Atom" suggests that Massive Attack is better served behind the boards than the microphone, this is expert festival-electro that takes you far.

-- August Brown

Massive Attack
 "Heligoland"
 EMI
 Three stars (Out of four)

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