Heligoland marks the much-anticipated return of Grant Marshall and Robert Del Naja, aka Daddy G and 3D, aka long-time trip-hop frontrunners Massive Attack. Since 2003’s 100th Window, their last full-length, the duo has been largely quiet. Heligoland, their fifth album since their 1991 debut, boasts a large and diverse roster of guest vocalists and an overall solid collection of songs that don’t quite add up to one of the group’s best records. But there are enough standouts to offer a glimpse into why Massive Attack have been considered one of the essential trip-hop groups over the course of their 17-year career.
In contrast to 100th Window, Heligoland takes a more organic approach in its composition by relying heavily on live instrumentation, including drums, horns, and even handclaps, in addition to syntheizers. “Pray For Rain,” the opening track, features TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe’s distinct vocals and seductively progresses from slow and defined drumbeats to a layered blend of horns and haunting electronics. The album also features contributions from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, whose purring vocals on “Paradise Circus” make Mazzy Star’s extinction even more frustrating. Her contribution sets the song apart as the best on the album. Otherwise it’s a mixed bag. While some tracks bring back the trippy glory of the group in the ’90s, others bring to light the fact that they’ve perhaps come to rely too heavily on their own downtempo formula without exploring the genre-bending routes they have in the past.