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Small Attack

(The Fader march/april 2003)
by Emma Warren

After losing one founder member (Andrew 'Mushroom' Vowles) in a burst of acrimony, after 1998's 'Mezzanine' stampe guitars and rock sonics over the band's soundsystem history, the new album is notable not just for it's ongoing dedication to musical hybridization, but the absence of the other founder member, Grant "Daddy Gee" Marshall.
Robert "3D" Del Naja is sitting in the basement of a West London hotel, knocking back sparkling water and pulling no punches as he explains the zig-zagging genesis of the record. 'Grant has taken a sabbatical because he's had a child. He hasn't been in the studio for 18 months, so it was down to me and Neil Davidge, who co-produced the last record, to get on with it. Grant is coming on tour, and he'll be back, but this is my record with Neil."
(Daddy Gee fans, however, can breathe a sigh of relief - in an effort to crank their work ethic up a few notches, the pair are already working on album five, which should incllude tracks with Tom Waits, Mos Def and Scottish chanteuse Dot Alison, the latter of which has already been recorded.)
But back to the here and now-and to '100th Window.' It's a panoramic, psychedelic mood record, redolent of road trips to Morocco and nerve-stretching late nights chemically sootherd, of Radiohead's glitchy techno investigations, and of experimental New York producer Bill Laswell, who famously brought samplers to afro-funk with Fela Kuti and introduced Herbie Hancock for scratching for "Rockit."
And whilst it continues the guitar-trajectory of 'Mezzanine,' is riffs on a more singular theme of linear dub and electronica. "This record is about the warmth and the love of it all, rather than despair and parnoia - which was what 'Mezzanine' seemed to be about," Del Naja states.
As well as Davidge - who was prone to 72-hour sessions, cutting up tape and reworking minute sections of a bassline - Del Naja was joined by Damon Albarn (on backing vocals for "Small Time Shot Away"), Massive stalwart Horace Andy and Irish heavywheight Sinéad O'Connor over the eight month recording period. Following in the liquid footsteps of Shara Nelson, lovely, moon-faced Tracy Thorn, and the Cocteau Twins' Liz Frasier, O'Connor brough lyrically-charged swoops - and swipes at both child abduction and power-crazed, world-worrying men. She's one of the only singers out there I really trust," says Del Naja. "On 'Prayer For England' we had a piece of music that she was really into and I asked here to write a prayer. It was unexpected how much she brought to it." The song, written about murdered British six-year old Sarah Payne, rolls searing lyrics over a driving, juggernaut bassline. It's not - lyrically, at least - what you'd expect in the middle of a Massive Attack album, but it's emotive nonetheless (and timely too, if, as extreme British satirist Chris Morris once claimed, we are currently in the middle of paedogeddon).
If there's an angry, postured, lyrical motif - the single "Special Cases" touches on the geo-political domination of the West over the East - it's reflected musically, too. "We've always flirted with Arabic sounds but I wanted to take it further. We were going to go to India to record the strings," he pauses, "but we heard that Death in Vegas had done that." Touché!
Politically, at least, Massive Attack have come full circle. During the fist Gulf War in 1991 the band were forced to shorten their name to 'Massive' as part of a broad-ranging set of censorship measure (songs banned on UK national radio included The Doors' "Light My Fire," Status Quo's "In The Army Now" and unbelievably, John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance"). Now, their website opens with a banner proclaiming 'No War In Iraq' alongside grave warning from former Attorney General Ramsey Clarke.
Del Naja has been vocal in his opposition to the war. "There are two evils fighting each other and we need to encourage more thought and debate," he says. "War has never solved anything - it just causes more violence. It's out lives and everybody else's live at stake here."
It's a theme they'll be expounding on throughout their world tour, with huge LED screens which will flash up facts and slogans in Zooropa-goes-interactive style (fans with text messaging on their mobile phones can send messages direct to the screens). "We'll be doing a remix album after the tour finishes," adds Del Naja "Not like 'No Protection' (the Mad Professor dub version of 'Protection') but of ideas and reworkings and live tracks from the tour." Also mooted is a DVD of animations and films to give 100th Window an added visual boost. "When we get to Japan and America we want to work with people - instead of doing the usual getting wrecked and moving on. We're going to use the time productively."
The graf artist-turned political pop star looks relaxed. So what does one-time member Mushroom, who is currently working on his own record, think of Del Naja's solo moment? "I was talking to a mutual friend about Mushroom recently," he says softly "And I got a real pang for him. I hope he'll get bits of it but I'm sure he'll hate parts of it too. That's the nature of our relationship." And Daddy Gee? "Well," he grins "he siad he liked it and then we were having an argument the other day and I was talking about doing music that I really believed in and that was really good. He turned round and said 'Well, that's debatable'." Del Naja harrumphs in the same whay that a sibling might about an annoying brother. "So I don't know." Some things never change. Whilst new bands worldwide are still being referred to as "the new Massive Attack," the real deal are getting on with the music - and being complicated.