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BLACK BLOSSOMS, MELANCHOLY & METAMORPHOSIS (1997-98)

In this extract from Melissa Chemam’s new book telling the story of Massive Attack and the trip-hop sound that emerged from Bristol, we hear how the shifting political climate in the UK and band tensions in the studio paved the way for the album that would become Mezzanine

In the mid 1990s, British culture and politics were thriving like they had not been since the Swinging Sixties. On May 1, 1997, the United Kingdom underwent a huge political turning point when, after the long Tory domination in Parliament, New Labour led by Tony Blair won the general election, with their most comfortable majority since 1935. Blair became Prime Minister and in July the new Chancellor, Gordon Brown, set the budget with a new vision. He planned to increase spending on education and healthcare by £3 million, and to help single mothers and unemployed youth.

Moreover, the government negotiated a renewal of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland in August, a historic deal that would lead to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The only cloud in Britain’s sky in 1997 seemed to be the tragic death of Princess Diana in Paris on August 31.

Culturally, the country was also at a high, notably when collector Charles Saatchi opened the ‘Sensation’ exhibition, with artworks by Young British Artists, at the Royal Academy of Art, in London. The show ran from September to December and received stunning reviews all around the world. One of the most noticed pieces was The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, created by Damien Hirst, an artist born in 1965 in Bristol…

MEZZANINE’S GENESIS

Since the end of 1996, Massive Attack had been working on a new album with the working title Damaged Goods. The band actually tried to remix Gang Of Four’s track of the same name into a rap version. After their successful tour dates and a winter break, they returned to Christchurch Studios, in Clift on early in 1997. But the making of this third album wasn’t easy, to say the least.

A rumour first announced a release for the summer 1997, but it was postponed to the end of the year, because of internal conflicts, said the media. The band scheduled new live dates instead.

The main issue was that the three members had a different view of what their new record should be. Mushroom was mostly satisfied by Protection and by the show centred on the decks with live scratching effects. His inspirations still came from hip-hop influences. But for 3D, the last gigs had shown that the band had to evolve to surprise and open new paths, and that they could. In the same way he had stopped painting graffiti half a decade earlier, when he felt it was becoming mainstream, he thought that what the press had baptised “trip-hop” had been a thousand times copied and therefore worn out.

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