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100th Window marks another step in the ongoing disappearing act that has been Massive Attack’s career. Not only is Robert Del Naja (3D) the only original member remaining on this album, but their music has receded from the frontiers they pioneered as well. Talented as they are, the granddaddies of trip-hop have never quite sustained the excitement of their seminal 1991 debut, Blue Lines.
Window pulls further inwards than even the oft-claustrophobic Mezzanine. The music throughout is just as ominous, but never breaks into the sense of open confrontation and menace that gave songs like “Angel” such bite. The album threatens without giving away anything, in part because of its resolutely synthetic approach. Even vocalist Horace Andy is distorted until he sounds something like a keyboard effect.
3D’s own delivery is droned and drawled until his lyrics are all but unintelligible. In a moment of relative lucidity, he mumbles “Small talk every time / It’s my favorite chloroform.” The man whose manic eyes and piercing gaze were the centerpiece of many of Massive’s best videos now seems drugged into insensibility.
The album is saved from sounding like a sinister movie soundtrack by the ministrations of Sinead O’Connor, who has one of the most poignant and beautiful voices in pop. Though she never gives full rein to her devastating range, her emotional performance on “A Prayer For England” stands out on an album that sounds almost frigidly intellectual.
Massive Attack may be incapable of making a sonically boring album. Yet the more 3D retreats into his head, the more the music becomes impenetrable. Sometimes even a hundred windows can’t offer a decent look inside.
—Andrew R. Iliff
Best known as Rob D from his contribution to the Matrix soundtrack, Rob Dougan has finally released his debut album.
Despite the seven years of work that went into Furious Angels, though, Dougan’s best song is still “Clubbed To Death (Kurayamino Mix),” a standout on the soundtrack to The Matrix. The downtempo classic featured a simple but alluring combination of rising strings and hip-hop beats that was immediately recognizable.
Fortunately, Furious Angels includes two versions of the song.
Most of the album mines that song’s orchestral, cinematic formula to successful effect. What is surprising, however, is that Dougan sings on most of the tracks. His gravelly, expressive voice sounds like a mix of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and the album often sounds oddly like one of Cave’s dark records set to heavily processed electronic beats.
More than being able to craft catchy songs, Dougan’s sensibility as a classical composer gives the album a welcome depth. On the appropriately titled “Instrumental,” he does away with both beats and vocals, leaving the listener with an atmospheric—if harmonically unadventurous—composition for strings.
Dougan’s strength really lies in his vocal arrangements, though his voice alone doesn’t have the range to make up for the substantial length of ballads like “Drinking Song.” Still, the evocative chilled-out beats on Furious Angels are a worthy continuation of the style created in “Clubbed To Death.”
—Daniel M. S. Raper
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