It’s been decades since Everything But The Girl decided to start trading in songs for beats, so rather than talking here about how Thorn is now “wearing a different hat,” I’d like to propose a sister metaphor which instead substitutes pants, the reason being that if you hang up your pants for twenty years, you may find when you finally pull them back down that they no longer fit properly. This is the situation in which Thorn finds herself now.
The formula behind Massive Attack’s pioneering trip-hop: the Jekyll-and-Hyde combination of Robert Del Naja’s mumbled back-alley baritone pseudo-raps and the somewhat more melodic leads, all with keyboard-laden backdrops hinting at fairly inept visions of the future. Remember that all of the above, roughly speaking, were contemporaries of movies like Hackers and The Net, artifacts from an awkward digital puberty where you’d get only one button on a mouse, if you even knew what one was in the first place.
Insofar as Heligoland still tries to be a Massive Attack record, the results are remarkable: “Rush Minute” and “Atlas Air” can stand alongside anything else this band has ever released. But those are also the only two fronted by Del Naja, and when he gives the keys to the van to guest lead vocalists, it all falls apart. The foreboding songs are usually made even more upsetting by all the confusing amorphous edges, for one thing, but these guys just enunciate too damn clearly.
The big winner is bleeding-edge composer Son Lux, who handily flips the second installment upside down largely by placing digital drums and chirps alongside perversely overeager pseudoclassical instrumentation, vaguely in the template of Björk’s remarkable unhinged-camp Sinatra-shrieker “It’s Oh So Quiet.” (He reportedly didn’t actually listen to the full songs he was remixing until he had finished his new versions, which seems to have worked out surprisingly well.) More
Just when you’re lost in an intricate waterfall of arpeggios or perhaps bopping your head involuntarily as a killer new drum pattern enters, Pallett will hit with you with a clever lyric or a memorable hook or something else that just shouldn’t be there, not according to the standard blueprints anyway. Foremost among these successes would be the refrain from sort-of title track “Oh Heartland, Up Yours!”—actually less amusing in execution than the punctuation might make it seem on paper, instead coming across as a tender Sufjan project gone awry, perhaps lamenting the various cruelties of 50 women instead of celebrating their home states. More
Radiohead, having long cultivated and complained about and composed around these nebulous fears about our souls being liposuctioned out from beneath us — “Heat the pins and stab them in/You have turned me into this/Just wish that it was bullet proof,” and so on — had finally decided that since nobody was quite getting the message, they needed instead to embody it, themselves becoming something too challenging to be ignored, too terrifying not to at least be remembered, whether by way of a temple or a crater. So if you could find an emotion in the throbbing cryogenic Jell-O of “Treefingers,” maybe there was still a heart in there somewhere (by which I’m not really sure whether I mean in you or in the Jell-O, but either way). More