February 10th marks the 10th anniversary of Massive Attack’s controversial and extraordinary album, 100th Window.
The group, a trio comprised of Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grant “Daddy G” Marshall and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles, had essentially imploded during the intense recording sessions for the previous album, Mezzanine. After 1997, when Mezzanine dropped, Mushroom had left the band entirely, while G was slowly but surely drifting away.
D was driving the whole thing, leading the post-Mezzanine sessions with fellow Bristol band Lupine Howl, creating long, guitar-heavy workouts that sounded like Mezzanine 2.0. But the years were passing, and the magic wasn’t happening for D. By 2002, it was just D and longtime collaborator Neil “no nickname” Davidge in the studio, creating the digital dreams and textures of what would become 100th Window. It call came together in a sudden six month period during 2002, and in September of that year, D announced that 100th Window would be released the following February, 2003.
Even though it was for all intents and purposes created by just D and Davidge, 100th Window is possibly the most “Massive Attack-y” Massive Attack album. It revealed that D’s vision was in a lot of ways the soul and consciousness of the band’s/brand’s sound. Despite the inexplicable reviews that labeled it the band’s darkest and coldest album yet, 100th Window is in fact an incredibly warm and gorgeous album, full of Del Naja’s digital lullabies, beautifully layered textures and atmospherics, where all the instruments and sounds and even the vocals were hypnotically choreographed and manipulated into a distinctively Bristolian yet utterly otherworldly landscape that existed in a mesmerizing dream-time.
It had menace, of course. It evoked flickering neon lights in deserted tower blocks on the edge of lonely cities late at night. It had relentless, messed-up beats. It glitched and stuttered like neurons firing when you’re deep asleep. Naturally, the basslines were… massive: sinuous, streamlined, slinking, beating like alien hearts. Sometimes the album was simply beautiful and pure.
It worked whispering to your soul via headphones, or blasting earth-shaking beats in front of 20,000 people.
It also saved me. It came out the day before a cataclysmic event in my life, one which reset everything, ending life as I knew it up to that point, leaving me in a new, empty wasteland. For a long time, there was nothing. I couldn’t watch movies, or TV. Or read books. Or listen to music.
What came back first was writing; that was the life raft that saved me. Words came out of the darkness and took my hands and showed them how to make more words. And then came 100th Window, which I’d been holding onto, waiting for a time when I could really hear it. I listened to it, over and over again, writing furiously all the while, as all my emotional systems came back online. I listened to it as the sky turned magic hour dark blue and held in a twilight stasis, the light lingering in the west until dark finally claimed it, bringing stars. It became the soundtrack for the rest of the year, as I used writing to change my life, to change everything. I remade my world while 100th Window still played, still kept consuming me and my imagination and my soul.
It’s a set of tracks to lead you out of darkness. The title came from the admittedly paranoid (and classically Massive Attack) idea that no matter how impregnable you think your defenses are, something can always get through (if you put bars over 99 windows, someone will break into the 100th window). But it works the other way too. You may think all your paths are blocked, that nothing can get you through this. But even if 99 paths are blocked, the 100th is there waiting for you to take it, follow it, and find your way to wherever you need to be.
Thank you, Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge, for creating this extraordinary piece of music.