100th Window, the long awaited follow-up to 1998’s Mezzanine, has once again whisked Massive Attack away in the political trappings of a world gone wrong. It seems fate would have it no other way — this is not the first time Massive Attack has released a record reflecting what the Talking Heads call “Life During Wartime.” In 1991, a fragile empire was conducting air raids in the Middle East when Massive Attack debuted with Blue Lines. This trio from Bristol, England was intercepted half way on the train to all stops trip-hop when their little bullet of personality bounced off the Kevlar-vested officers of censorship — they were denied airplay until they changed their name. “That’ll show those damn artists.”
Long a social activist, frontman Robert Del Naja, a.k.a. 3D, the sole founding member remaining, with Mushroom leaving for artistic differences and Daddy G taking a hiatus to start a family, has shot his strong convictions through 100th Window, an equally convicted soundtrack for our discouraged war-weary world. Mechanically apocalyptic, like Tricky’s Pre-Millennium Tension, despondent like Radiohead’s Amnesiac, it still remains full of heart, compassion and wisdom. An evolved global awareness moves through these nine tracks (totaling 73 minutes and 59 seconds) like a Great Spirit weaving the fabric of social consciousness. A strong emotive agenda drives this record, laying a foundation as solid as their surrounding sound.
Intentionally colder than Mezzanine and categorically more experimental, this impressive manipulation of sound and fury has resulted in a record right for the times. A cybernetic program opens “Future Proof,” followed by a mimicking guitar, skipping industrial beats, and a distant bass. “Borderline Case/Reinforced Glass/Absent Friends/Passport Photos An Elastic Past” — metaphorically acute, the almost existential attitude in “Future Proof” appears in protest of human frailty. It reveals, however, through this protest, the ultimate concept behind 100th Window: Past the barriers of self-isolation and self-preservation, there remains “a way in” to what is most human — our vulnerability. “Quite rightly so,” said Del Naja in a recent interview. In a country hell-bent on national defense, “Special Cases” says it best: “Check yourself for your own shit/ And don’t make out like it’s all his.”
Guest vocalist Sinead O’Connor highlighting three tracks deserves mention as well. “A Prayer for England,” co-written with Del Naja and writer/producer Neil Davidge, is a sincere invocation for healing, and for O’Connor, a sort of exorcism of personal demons. Indeed, the song is as much a prayer for England as it is for every troubled nation: “Jah calls the ones whose beliefs kill children, too/ Feel the love of you and be healed/ And may we all cry too/ For representing you/ So badly.” A righteous move for Sinead, and a sympathetic voice that resonates with anti-war sentiment around the globe. Serious and simple words to take to heart. World peace might not be as easy as singing a song, but I’m thinking of a great number of folks who would do well to hear it.
Five years in the making, 100th Window is evolved, thoughtful and ultimately haunting, with sweeping string arrangements that echo through hollow, hypnotizing downbeats, and deep, brooding vocals. It sticks with you, because, in many ways, it describes you. With liner notes tracing more lyrics than production credits, cool glassworks by Andrew Hay and shout-outs to Amnesty International, 100th Window is a work of art with a heart. It may be “Life During Wartime,” but 100th Window keeps us from singing “I ain’t got no records to play.”