The other day, my LA-dwelling friend was telling me about some "cheesy guy" that got her to go back to his place after a date one night, though it was against her better judgment. "He put on Tricky, and I was like, forget it," she said with a laugh.
It hit me then that Tricky - along with his fellow Bristol-birthed acts that occupy the genre of trip-hop - had been reduced to make-out music and movie soundtrack material. What trip-hop is now is a far cry from what it was in the '90s. For me, it was one of the gateways from rock to electronic music; a sound which brought the epiphany that programmed beats could rock as hard as a drum kit.
Sure, I noticed trip-hop's fall from cutting-edge grace when I bought a discount, three-disc compilation called This Is Trip-Hop from a chain bookstore in London. The genre is now in its Hollywood-franchise phase, with the gorgeous "Teardrop" being used as the theme song to the Fox drama House, and the haunting "Angel" appearing in the movie Snatch, among other placements. After 2003's incredibly disappointing 100th Window, I thought we'd heard the last of Massive Attack.
But with Collected, the group is laying groundwork for their fifth studio album, Weather Underground, slated for release in spring 2007. The two-disc compilation is a reminder of their groundbreaking catalog. The first "best of" disc features the strongest tracks from Blue Lines, Protection, Mezzanine, and 100th Window, and also a cinematic new single, "Live With Me." It's one of those tracks that gets better with repeat listens, with folk-jazz artist Terry Callier's soulful vocals helping the band tread new, tamer territory. It's not enough to indicate what direction the rest of Massive Attack's new music will take, given the band's tendency to create albums that vary so much within.
Part of why Collected is such a successful compilation is the amazing musicians and guest vocalists that passed through the band during its life: the gravel-voiced Tricky, reggae hero Horace Andy, Everything But The Girl's moody Tracy Thorne, and the Cocteau Twins' silky-voiced Elizabeth Fraser. With their distinct contributions together on one disc, the result is powerful: a seamless ripple of sounds groovy, moody, sexy, and sweet.
The second disc contains a bunch of rarities, remixes, and previously unreleased material, plus the reverse side is a DVD that features all their videos to date. The rarities are a die-hard's dream, but the awkward Madonna collaboration, "I Want You," is out of place, and others, like "Joy Luck Club" and "Incantations," sound tired. The main strength in the opening track, "False Flags," is Robert Del Naja's (or 3D's) signature, darkly hypnotic vocals. Other highlights are the perfectly elegant "Silent Spring," and "Small Time Shoot 'Em Up," which includes backing vocals from Blur/Gorillaz genius Damon Albarn.
Massive Attack are known for taking a long time between each studio release, and this approach has kept their fans hungry - Collected debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums chart. The retrospective is a solid collection for anyone nostalgic for the band's music, and is an equally solid crib sheet for anyone unlucky enough to have missed the boat completely. Forget all those me-too bands on that This is Trip-Hop compilation that diluted the genre with cheap beats and pseudo-sensual vocals. Collected is a beginner's chance to learn from the trip-hop masters, and a die-hard's chance to remember.