It is a common misconception that the best way to approach a review is to listen to the album/track in question a few times before expressing an informed opinion of the material in some form of context. While attempting a recent review of Massive Attack’s Heligoland, I discovered through research that certain rules must be adhered to and protocol followed. Especially in the broadsheets and monthly music publications, Massive Attack have apparently been ‘sussed’, eradicating the necessity to discuss them in any new way, and therefore making it easier for journalists to put together a paint-by-numbers piece on the group. Here are 6 simple steps that you can follow when writing your own Massive Attack review……
1. Start with a reference to the fact that it has been years since their last release (in this case seven), and imply that they are only pushing a few buttons/recording a few west country-accented vocals, so what’s taking them so long?
2. Follow this up with an observation regarding the amount of weed they smoke. This is a favourite of the broadsheets that still like to think of themselves as mildly ‘liberal’, while confirmation that the journalist in question knows what cannabis smells/looks like is apparently qualification enough for them to be writing the piece. The venerable Alexis Petridis, The Guardian’s Sultan of disagreeable opinion, has demonstrated exquisite use of this technique over the years. See “Massive Attack: ‘Phantom Funk? Who Said That?’ from The Guardian, 10th September 2009.
3. With customary steps one and two out the way, the review should then go on to inform us how influential this group of Bristolians have been on electronic-based music in this country, indeed that they pretty much invented trip-hop (a genre they neither associate themselves with, or claim to understand). Also mention that they were leaders of the ‘Bristol Scene’ in the mid ‘90s, which, according to the mainstream music press, consisted only of them, former collaborator Tricky, Portishead, and occasionally Roni Size.
4. Whilst on the subject, discuss Tricky’s or even Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles’ unceremonious departure from the group, even though the latter happened about 13 years ago, and the former over 16. This is another favourite subject of journalists, who have some strange desire to blow it out of all proportion while the group look on, bemused (and stoned, don’t forget to say they are stoned).
5. Don’t be afraid to use big words. Massive Attack are now officially owned by the broadsheets, as they are pioneers of the ‘urban, yet critically acclaimed and therefore non-threatening or too difficult to categorise’ school of artists (see Dizzee Rascal or someone like that). In a recent article in The Times, Will Self refers to the band as, among other things: intransigent (dunno what the means), sui generis (sounds Latin or something), and effusive (think that’s like unreserved). The fact that Self also refers to the group as “The Massives” is further evidence that the “serious” music press now see them as one of their own.
6. Write a lot about both Blue Lines and Mezzanine, even though they were both released well over a decade ago, and have subsequently been raped and pillaged by adverts and US dramas (both medical and cop). To be fair to reviewers on this front, the band have not particularly moved on in terms of their sound from this era, so points for relevance may still be earned here.
Oh yeah, Heligoland. Yeah, it’s good. Give it a listen.