As with any collaborative effort, one of the key aims is to maintain a sense of cohesion so that even when there are so many guests, the album still sounds like the trademark of the parent band. The band in question this time is Massive Attack who turned this potential problem into a fine art for three albums in the 1990’s. However, this is their first long player since 2003’s underwhelming ‘100th Window’. Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall is also back on board to assist permanent member Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja.
Much of Massive Attack’s material rises or falls on the strengths of its guests. The first, TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, proves to be an inspired choice. He adds menace to ‘Pray For Rain’ and there’s even space for him to try out a little Beach Boy self-harmonising at the end of the song. Martina Topley Bird – still chiefly known for her work on Tricky’s landmark ‘Maxinquaye’ album some fifteen years ago – provides further stellar turns; her strange but sweet mumbling style fits in well with the rhythmic ‘Babel’ and the beautifully hypnotic ‘Psyche’.
Honorary member Horace Andy’s (the only guest to appear on all Massive Attack’s five albums) contributions are much more worthwhile than for ‘100th Window’; helping to make ‘Girl I Love You’ a rumbling delight. Biggest surprise though, is Damon Albarn, whose emotional turn for ‘Saturday Come Slow’ proves to be one of the album’s strongest performances. Yet ‘Rush Minute’ surpasses even this; written by Del Naja, Marshall and relatively recent core member Neil Davidge; it’s a stunning collage of Del Naja’s threatening whisper, intense percussion and trip-hop.
It’s perhaps no surprise to learn that ‘Heligoland’ isn’t a groundbreaking album. It didn’t need to be really; Massive Attack did all that nearly twenty years ago. However, it is a return to the consistent quality of those earlier records. The songs meld seamlessly into one another and create a hugely attractive album which is deeply atmospheric and intoxicating.