Music of the Week — June 4, 2006
Massive Attack: Mezzanine
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything described as “trip-hop” that I didn’t like at least mildly. It’s a matter of atmosphere, and to me the style seems a bit mis-named. No doubt the name arose because the style apparently began as a variation of hip-hop and “trip-hop” seemed clever, but the general vibe strikes me as far more narcotic than psychedelic. The first thing I ever heard that bore this label was Portishead’s Dummy, which will probably make an appearance here eventually: I instantly loved its romantic late-night melancholy, the nostalgic effect of some of the samples, and the sometimes yearning quality of the vocals and the lyrics. I thought on first listen that Mezzanine was not going to be any threat to Dummy’s position as the best thing I’d heard in this line, but two more listens changed my mind.
This is a very different sort of work from Dummy, much less song-oriented, much more obviously having roots in hip-hop, but equally compelling. I’d be surprised if anyone has ever described it without using the word “dark” at least once: it’s a dim, moody, sensual, almost Baudelarian atmosphere, and, as the AMG review says quite nicely, both earthy and ethereal. The lyrics are pretty negligible, and sometimes more lubricious than I would like, and musically it’s mostly a matter of rhythms and carefully placed instruments and samples, but it will definitely get under your skin. I look forward to listening to it on headphones sometime, as the production is so full of interesting details. Its very best moments may be the tracks on which former Cocteau Twin Elisabeth Fraser contributes vocals and, I’d be willing to bet, the melodies she sings, which have a very distinctly Cocteau Twins character. These seem to yearn upwards rather than to be heading into some sort of pleasant but unhealthy fog. It wouldn’t do as a steady diet, but I’ll allow myself Mezzanine as an occasionally permissible indulgence, like some sort of exotic absinthe-like liqueur .