Massive Attack Strike Again
U.K. "project" loses members, gains freedom

Ambiguous

"There was very little compatibility," Massive Attack's Robert "3D" del Naja says, explaining why he is sitting alone in the Bristol, England, studio to talk about Massive's new album, 100th Window. For previous releases -- 1991's Blue Lines, 1994's Protection and 1998's Mezzanine -- Massive Attack were a trio that also included Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles. But Vowles decamped to focus on his own work after completing the touring for Mezzanine, and Marshall left in December 2001 to spend time with his family. "I like to romantically think of a time where we were all in one room saying, 'This is the future.' But there was never a time like that. There was always a problem . . . a never-ending struggle."

Del Naja is enjoying the creative freedom that has come along with the group's reorganization. "We weren't in the same place," he says. "If you attach yourself to a project too much, it becomes a vanity issue. Every band who've sold themselves via their physical selves, end up being self-destructive. The idea of image changes, how people see image and how relevant it is at a certain time. If it's about the people, it's not as important as the music."

He worked on Window with Mezzanine's co-producer Neil Davidge, and created a more adventurous piece of work than anything Massive Attack had done previously: The mysterious wandering sweeps and eerie Middle Eastern strings venture into much darker territory than ever before, a place full of bone-chilling angst and sexual tension.

Del Naja's also taken Massive Attack into increasingly political venues: In conjunction with Blur's Damon Albarn, he took two ads out in the New Musical Express stating "No War in Iraq." "I try and stay involved," del Naja says, "without ramming it down people's throats . . . without making it too confrontational. People can take it if they want it, and not if they choose not to."

Still, at no point did del Naja think of 100th Window as a solo project, nor did it occur to him to call it anything else but a Massive Attack album. "Massive Attack was meant to be ambiguous," he says. "It was a project, and it was never meant to be a band. It wasn't important how it was made or who was working. The whole point was it would evolve and change."

Del Naja's also already has most of the next Massive Attack album in place; it will feature guest appearances from Tom Waits ("even though he thinks my name is Richard"), Mos Def (with whom he worked on the Blade II soundtrack on "I Against I") and Dot Allison, who is slated to support Massive Attack on the upcoming American tour for 100th Window.

LILY MOAYERI
(February 10, 2003)