Works Of Friction (Venue, 11th April 2008)
Creative tension's in the air as the natoriously dysfunctional Massive Attack piece together their new album. Stephen Dalton wonders if they're still talking.
Five years have passed since the last Massive Attack album, and two whole decades since the original Wild Bunch sound system first began moulding reggae, punk and hip-hop into the deluxe unfurnished syymphonies that went on to conquer the world. Portishead and Tricky maybe due to drop their latest comeback albums first, but the original godfathers of Bristol music have always marched to their own leisurelv beat. Perfection takes time.
Currently scheduled for an October release, the next Massive album has the tentative title of `Weather Underground', although Robert `3D' Del Naja recently hinted to Radio One's Zane Lowe that this name may be dropped. An official source confirms guests on the album will include regular collaborator Horace Andy, ethereal singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen and Brooklyn art-rockers TV On The Radio.
In 2006, Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall told Venue that 'Crazy' duo Gnarls Barkley and veteran soulman Terry Callier were also in the mix. Other rumoured guests include Massive veteran Elizabeth Fraser, Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval, even Patti Smith and David Bowie. The great thing about Massive Attack, given their track record as worldclass collaborators, is that all of these could be true.
Meanwhile, the band have been invited to curate this year's prestigious Meltdown festival at London's South Bank Centre in June, followed by a Glastonbury appearance and European festival tour. As yet, the South Bank lineup remains top secret, but 3D recently wrote on the Massive Attack website that "Meltdown is a beautiful daydream, drawing up a list of the artists you would most love to be in the same place with during one week in summer". He also promises to "bring a very visual element to the party as well as a socialpolitical depth".
The new Massive album was conceived in schizophrenic manner, with 3D and his regular studio collaborator Neil Davidge crafting one batch of tracks while Grant and the Bristol-based production duo Robot Club worked separately on another. 3D likens this patchwork approach to an iPod or mixtape, taking him right back to the band's Wild Bunch days.
"It's going to be a strange record, almost like that Outkast album, where I'll be doing one half and G will be doing the other," 3D said. "But we never sit in the same room together and write music. Me and Mushroom did it occasionally, and me and Tricky used to write together. But beyond that, it's mostly been individuals working with different collaborators. Me and G haven't written anything together in the same room since '97."
Grant was absent from the last Massive album, the heavily electronic `100th Window', due to fatherhood duties and friction within the band. Back on board for the new record, he says his mission is to "get some soul back in the Massive Attack sound".
All the same, the tensions remain. "There's always tension with Massive Attack, that's the nature of the game," Grant said. "Musical tension, social tension. We don't really get on or see each other that much."
Of course, friction can be creative. Bristol's most dysfunctional duo may have notched up almost 20 years of bruising bust-ups and brooding feuds, but their music has always been majestically beautiful. "Well, this is the height of friction with Massive Attack,"
Grant told Venue, "so we'll probably get the best album we've ever done."