Listen to the land

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 April, 2010, 12:00am

British trip-hop duo Massive Attack have released their highly anticipated new album after a lapse of seven years, featuring customarily an all-star cast of guest vocals.

Massive Attack, who also announced their first US tour in four years, gained their highest US chart position ever, when Heligoland debuted at No. 46 on the Billboard 200.

The last time the pair from Bristol, England, released a full-length album - 100th Window - was in 2003. They had said a new one would be out in 2004, and then every year until 2009, but it wasn't until February this year that the product was eventually put on the market. Heligoland was thus released amid high expectations among fans around the world.

In 2007, during the break, band member Robert Del Naja began composing film scores. His efforts on US documentary Trouble the Water earned an Oscar nomination, but he has since bored of such work.

'I find it slightly unrewarding because it tends to end up becoming generic, no matter how you start ,' he says. 'There is a fear of silence in movies which directors, producers and distributors cannot take, and every film has to have the same device to help the plot evolve or to help the audience interface with the characters and give them permission to laugh and cry.'

The return to pure music is no doubt a relief.

'We've been making our fifth album since we started our first album, it feels like,' says Del Naja, who also designed the cover. 'It has been an inevitable sort of course and trajectory. But when it was going to be finished was probably the question that no one could answer.'

Heligoland takes its name from a German archipelago that was a bombing range in wartime and is now a holiday resort.

'The record was about a lot of different personalities and it seems nice to represent the title of the album as a place, as opposed to just a thing or a phrase or a word. It felt more accurate to describe a place where everyone might coexist, or not,' Del Naja says.

He says they had already fallen in love with the word before they learned more of the history.

'It sounds like an anagram of lots of other words, which is why it is such a nice word. But the history of the place is absolutely intriguing, and also the fact that one of the earliest spellings Helgoland means 'holy land', which is obviously very poetic.'

The creation process, Del Naja says, is one of finding novelty. 'When the track sounds to us a little bit like something we have done before, you will fight against it, and try to drag it somewhere else. A lot of tracks, because they won't survive that process, will disappear or be left behind.'

The other band member, Grant Marshall, describes working together as amicable, although a lot of work was done independently. 'It has been a case of maybe initiating tracks, and taking a track through to fruition, and if and when we need each other's input, we'll ask.'

Del Naja adds: 'We have always been a clash of ideas and, as well as that creating conflict within the band, historically it has been what makes it interesting.'