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welcome to red lines est.1997


Official Massive Attack Forum

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No Artificial Colours Or Flavours (DAZED & CONFUSED: ISSUE 9 1994)

Some albums are more important for their associations than their music. Listening to them again after long periods can be an uncomfortably nostalgic experience... Different life, different girlfriend, different city. Massive Attack's first album Blue Lines is not one of these. And neither is their latest Protection.

The spacious, snagging intro to the title track Protection carries the wispy but pained voice of Tracey Thorn, freeing itself from the funky little cycles of notes elaborating themselves quietly in the background. In short, it's beautiful.

Dazed & Confused: How do you go about finding your singers? They're always completely different.
3D: Yeah, but they're always fantastic, too. We just call them up. And if they want to work with us, we get it together. We'd all loved Tracey's voice for a long time, so we sent her some tapes, and, uh, the same with everybody else and ...now we've got an album.
D&C: What have you been up to for three years? Spending all your money?
3D: The funny thing is everybody thinks we're really rich pop stars, because Blue Lines was so influential or whatever. But it didn't really sell that well. About 60,000 or something. It wasn't big in America, so we didn't make that much money.
D&C: So what have you all been doing?
3D: I dunno. Writing songs. Mucking around. What does anyone do? We've kept ourselves busy.

They have, it's true. If 3D and G weren't the only pop stars to attend the World Cup final, they were certainly the only ones to be flown into the stadium in a private helicopter with producer Nellee Hooper. (3D's half-Italian, and a big Napoli FC fan.) They bought their tickets from a couple of disaffected Romanians who'd optimistically expected their side to beat both Sweden and Brazil.

D&C: So how much did you have to pay for your tickets?
3D: There's no way I'm telling you that.
D&C: Go on.
3D: No way.
D&C: Come on.
3D: Uh-uh.

The boys had been staying with Hooper at Madonna's pad in the Los Angeles hills, but had spent most of their time sleeping rather than carousing with Madonna.

D&C: What's Madonna like? Cooler than she looks?
3D: Probably, but we never even met her. We'd been there for three days, whatever, and we were getting into the car to leave and Nellee says "Look, you can't just leave without even saying hello to her. That'd be rude." So we called her up and had a chat. She gives good phone, I'll say that. It was pretty flattering. She said she loves the new album.

They've also had their scrapes. Our interview had to be postponed by a couple of days because 3D busted up his leg playing footie and Mushroom had done his neck in playing Quasar. Mushroom is the quietest of the Massive Attack trio.

D&C: I hear you got your name from an arcade game.
Mushroom: Yeah.
D&C: Which one?
M: The one where you shoot the mushrooms, Centipede.
D&C: Track balls were cool, weren't they?
M: Yeah. Remember that other one, with the cities and the missiles?
D&C: Missile Command?
M: Yeah. That was cool.

But clearly, part of the delay between albums has been that they've lost a few key people: their lead singer, Shara Nelson, went off to pursue a solo career; and their manager, Cameron McVey went off to work on Neneh Cherry's second album taking their producer Johnny Dollar with him.
However, and more importantly for all their down-home demeanour and happy-go-lucky grins Massive Attack are perfectionists and they weren't going to be rushed into churning out a ropey second album just for the sake of a few bucks.

D&C: Were you under a lot of pressure?
3D: Yeah. The record company hassled us quite a bit. But there was like ten years of work that went into Blue Lines, we weren't going to turn another album out in a few days, you know what I mean? We were never going to do Blue Lines 2. There was a lot of stuff left over after the first one, but... you know, so what?
D&C Are you scared of second album syndrome? Neneh's flopped.
G: Nah. We're just doing something completely different. This is the record we wanted to make, and we made it.
D&C: Weren't you tempted, what with everybody leaving, to release this record under a different name, and leave behind you just one perfect shining Massive Attack album?
G: Thanks a bunch! No.

Massive Attack could have become superstars in 1991. But they didn't want to. Sometimes these things happen against your will when you're loaded with talent and when other people can make lots of money out of you. But Massive Attack never had an instantly identifiable image to hook the punters. Sometimes it seemed they never had the same front person twice in a row. And to confuse things further nobody was ever quite sure what the band was called. If Massive Attack were Massive Attack what was with this band called Massive?

D&C: What happened with your name? You've got the Attack back but why did you get rid of it?
G: It was stupid. We had to. We arrived around the time of the Gulf War and records were getting banned and everything.
D&C: Like I Shot The Sheriff and Give Peace A Chance...
G: Some words just weren't allowed to exist. We had to take the "Attack" off our name.
D&C: That's pathetic.
G: Yeah. It was a war. Like one word is going to make a difference.

But if the Massive Attack sound has made a giant leap forward in three years, at least one thing has remained the same: they take almost as much care over their visuals as their music, and retain a unique amount of control over them — especially 3D, who seems to have grown up in Bristol with an aerosol can of paint in each hand. If you look closely, you'll find one odd image linking both Blue Lines and Protection: a knife and fork, crossed like the bones under the skull on a pirate's flag. They were tucked away in the sleeve notes before, but now they're on the cover, held by the band's new logo: Eurochild. (He looks like some virtual reality come-on for a motorway caff; a Happy Eater logo imported from the 21st century).

D&C: What is it about knives and forks?
3D: We really like playing around with icons and symbols. Turning them around. They're powerful, scary things. Like when it says "Inflammable Liquid" on the back of a tanker on the motorway. A knife and fork is the ultimate symbol of consumerism, of eating things up. Consuming them, like the rainforests.
M: Yeah. Messing up the world.
3D: It's all big business.
M: Companies selling milk powder to mothers in the third world.

A few minutes earlier Mushroom had gone off on a long rant about the cancer causing properties of cheese.

D&C: You really hate milk and cheese, don't you?
M: I'm allergic to dairy products.

Eurochild was originally conceived as an anti fascist illustration, but now it's taken on a life of its own and moved centre stage. Its steely spheres sort of represent the assorted countries of the new Europe, working together in harmony and happiness. Sort of.
There's going to be a touring exhibition of 3D's Eurocentric art, all grimy photocopies and photographs, splashed with paint and icons accompanying the band as they gig their way around Britain. And 3D promises special light shows and films during the concerts. The band also have big plans for some virtual reality projects. They're talking to programmers and visualisers, but it's difficult to say whether anything will come off. 3D wants people to be able to go into a record shop, pull on headphones, listen to a few tracks and also pull on a VR helmet to experience some cyberspatial worlds. But in the end it's all down to the music, and there are no doubts on that score: Protection is a work of genius.

D&C: Was it difficult choosing which tracks to include and which to leave out?
G: No... Yes. We had a lot of arguments... Have you noticed how both sides of the album are symmetrical? Five tracks on each: one with Tracey, a rap, one with Nicolette, a soundtracky one, and one with Horace.

As a parting shot, I try the really important question once last time.

D&C: So how much did you pay for those World Cup final tickets?
3D: All right, all right. Two hundred quid. Each.