After seven years of supposed break ups, rumoured releases, and generally lying low, Massive Attack released their fifth studio album, and after fearing the worst, State can confirm it’s an early runner for album of the year. There’s collaborations with Damon Albarn (whose home studio they also recorded in), Martina Topley Bird, Guy Garvey and, of course, Horace Andy. It’s called Heligoland and it’s a beautiful, surprisingly simple record that can sit happily alongside any of the output from one of the most important bands of the last two decades.
Robert del Naja, aka 3D, is the only member of the group to have his fingerprints over each of those five records with 2003’s 100th Window – so horribly overlooked in some quarters – supposedly singling the end for the band as co-founder of the group Daddy G (Grant Marshall) decided to briefly leave Del Naja to his own devices.
Any rift though is long since healed and when State finds the pair overlooking the Bristol skyline in one of the larger rooms of the city’s Hilton Hotel, they’re laughing away at a joke from the frankly, eh’¦ massive Grant. Both greet me with warm handshakes and questions about the flight over (they’re not huge Ryanair fans) and within a few moments Marshall’s off to be interrogated down the hall in a separate room, while Del Naja turns on a very loud coffee machine and begins to chat about how his morning plan of watching a few goals from a midweek Napoli game were ruined by an over-zealous fellow supporter.
‘It always happens. If I want to see the Napoli game from the day before and I go on to YouTube to check out the goals some fucker’s already put something up, edited it and put his own soundtrack to it, a really shit Italian dance tune usually with a whistle as the main instrument. They’ve already put their titles on it, they’ve lots of effects on it and all I want to see are the fucking goals.’
Focused rage upon some poor Italian aside though, Del Naja proves to be in a great mood, incredibly talkative and delighted to talk about delays, collaborations that go right and the ones that horribly wrong as well as much, much more. With the coffee machine finally serving its purpose, he pours us a cup each and sits down to be questioned.
State: There have been plenty of reports over the past few years that a new album was done and dusted but there was always a new delay. It is that it’s just hard to settle on 10 ten tracks, or 50 minutes of music, that you’re happy to let go and let represent your work over the past few years?
3D: Yeah it is to be honest. For instance, there was one track called -Invade Me’ with Martina (Topley Bird) and we cut it with it on and with it off. It’s difficult to know if it was one track too many, not in terms of the length of album but in terms of mood. Because we’ve a split set of moods on this record that feel like they can co-exist with each other in a comfortable but interesting way, so then you can overdo it by going too far, going too dark, too happy, too small, too big y’know what I mean?
There’s some quite simple arrangements on the album with that it comes across as a very instant record, more instant than say, Mezzanine was.
I think it’s definitely more instant. The production ideology for me was to bring everything back to basics, to record everything in a very specific way. With this record, it was much more about recording the parts that are needed – the melodic structure, the rhythms and we’re going to arrange it, keep it simple nothing that needs to be there has to be there. The sound we wanted to be very clear, very present, vocals very dry. If it’s electronic or analogue or if it’s acoustic or rhythmic you want to hear it in the room so the approach in terms of the sound, it was very important for me to keep it like that and it felt with that way that using different voice, as opposed to compilation-sounding record, everything had a sort of a sense of belonging. There’s echoes of some tracks and rhythms when they follow one to another, there might be something similar about the pattern or the signature but in a different speed.