The trio of Robert Del Naja, Andrew Vowles and Grand Marshall formed what we know as Massive Attack from a local sound system known as The Wild Bunch. Backed by Neneh Cherry who had found considerable success in music at the time. Massive Attack’s greatest strength has always been weaving distinctive vocalists such as Madonna, Horace Andy and Sinead O’Connor right into the band’s core fabric. The band often takes what makes a singer so special and reflects it into a strange familiar light that makes the songs quite catchy and worth the listen. If you have never listened to some Massive Attack songs, you might want to start here. If you are a fan of this British band, you can check out our list of the top ten Massive Attack songs.
10. Special Cases
Coming in at number ten is a track that I would say was the easiest and probably the quickest song that Massive Attack did on their fourth studio album, 100th Window. You will realise this when you look at the song’s message which was simple yet very direct. The message behind the song was how you can find someone to trust amidst the fragility of the chaotic world we live in. “Special Cases” was the first track to be released from the album, 100th Window and was effectively used to promote the album.
9. Paradise Circus
Although the track “Paradise Circus” has been through a couple of iterations, it initially started out as a collaboration between Daddy G and Robot Club. The track was initially called, “Harpsichord” and was called so during Massive Attack’s 2008 European tour. The track was featured in Massive Attack’s album, Heligoland where it became the most prominent as well as the most touching track on the album. The track is used as the theme song for BBC TV series, Luther.
Most Massive Attack fans would probably argue that this track should feature higher up in the list. However, there is no denying the fact that is ranks high up there with “Unfinished Sympathy” as one of Massive Attack’s most critically acclaimed songs.
7. Take It There
After a six year silence, Massive Attack did a collaboration with four kindred spirits: Roots Manuva, Young Fathers, Trick (former Massive Attack member) and Azekel. After a bitter split that lasted 22 years, it was the first time in 22 years that Massive Attack had made music together. Many fans had always hoped for a reunion and the track did not disappoint. The track left us yearning for more from both parties with Tricky’s harrowed , smoky tones combined with 3D’s marvellous spoken word and the out of church piano tunes that prove that Massive Attack are still a force to reckon with.
“Protection” is quite significant in the band’s musical catalog since it marked the transformation of the band’s sound to a lesser hip-hop oriented sound. “Protection” is the second track from the band’s second studio album by the same name. The song features Tracey Thorn and features some samples taken from the 1973 funk song by James Brown, “The Payback.”
5. I Want You – featuring Madonna
“I Want You” was a cover version of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 song. The track featured Madonna who had just finished recording her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories. Chaka Khan was initially slated to do the collabo with Massive Attack, but she was unavailable at that time. Although Daddy G and Mushroom never got to meet Madonna during the recording sessions, it’s safe to say that the song is a classic since it displayed Madonna and Massive Attack at the peak of their powers. Her vocals were quite impressive and the song is beautiful.
Coming in at number four is another track which has become somewhat of a signature Massive Attack tune. The track is contained in their 1994 album, “Protection,” as the last single. According to 3D, he and Tricky wrote the lyrics of the song at a backstage music festival in England. To complement the lyrics, Massive Attack sought the help of The Insects who they had befriended while working on their album, Blue Lines.
3. The Spoils
The number three song on our list of the best Massive Attack songs is an exploration of anxious love, where Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star links up with Massive Attack. After doing the vocals on “Paradise Circus,” and the non album single, “Four Walls,” Hope Sandoval does enough justice to this track which is probably the most heartbreaking song by Massive Attack.
Laced with intoxicating vocals from Horace Andy, “Angel” is quite an immersive track, and the perfect opening song for the band’s third studio album, Mezzanine. As Daddy G pointed out, the track was bigger than any member of the band and it was something that the band had to complete after starting out. The track samples a track by the Incredible Bongo Band and the video features Daddy G in a car park and as he exits, the rest of the band members appear behind him.
1. Unfinished Sympathy
When this track was released back in 1991, Massive Attack were only known as Massive, to avoid a radio ban due to the ongoing Gulf War. “Unfinished Sympathy” is arguably Massive Attack’s greatest song and the song that clearly defined the group from Bristol. “Unfinished Sympathy” is the second track from Massive Attack’s debut studio album, Blue Lines. The greatness of the song is defined in how it incorporates various musical elements such as percussion sampling, drum programming and string orchestration which were done by Wil Malone. According to the band members, the orchestra was quite expensive and the band had to sell their car in order to pay for the strings. The track received massive acclaim from music critics and ranked highly in several charts of 1991. The track has been used as a soundtrack for the 1993 film Sliver and has featured in numerous polls counting the greatest songs of all time.
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Top 10 Massive Attack Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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