Massive Attack has always been smart and humble enough to enlist fantastic guest vocalists (i.e. Andy Horace, Shara Nelson) to sing on their albums, but featuring Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn on the title track to Protection is a true stroke of genius. She’s among the most emotive singers in the genre and her presence lends a sultry certainty to this soulful meditation on intimacy, power, and vulnerability.
Over a lush, pulsating groove, Thorn breathes “You’re a boy and I’m a girl” as if sex were the inevitable conclusion. When she admits: “I’ll stand in front of you, I’ll take the force of the blow” it’s unsure whether the bruises will be emotional or physical, but “Protection” is undoubtedly about damage. The song’s impact lingers long after it’s over.
DJ Norman Cook wins no prizes for subtlely, but that’s part of the appeal. The most well-known Fatboy Slim songs employ knock-you-over-the-head hooks propped up by gigantic, thumping beats, and you’re just as likely to hear one spun at a frat house basement kegger as you are at a chic London discotheque. Compared to radio-friendly techno rock mash-ups like “Rockafeller Skank” and “Going Out of My Head,” “Love Island” is a hidden gem, which is perhaps why I enjoy it so much. Oh yeah… and it’s got a bass line so fat and juicy, you can practically take a bite out of it.
8. “Christiansands.mp3” (single) – Tricky – 1996 – Buy it
When Tricky parted ways with Massive Attack in 1994, it took him only a year to leave a searing mark on our psychic consciousness with Maxinquaye, a dark, swirling slab of phobia-ridden beats and unsettling beauty. It’s a stunning debut album, as much a defining sonic statement on modern anxiety as OK Computer. But oddly enough, it doesn’t contain Tricky’s best song, which came in 1996 and was later released on the flawed Pre-Millennium Tension. “Christiansands” distills Tricky’s potent essence into 4 minutes of chugging, paranoid funk that is complex, yet extremely listenable.
7. “Music Sounds Better With You.mp3” (single) – Stardust – 1998 – Buy it
“Music Sounds Better With You” has been called the greatest house song of all time and the anthem of all club anthems (one joyous listener claimed it “hits harder than a line of Peruvian white.”), and it certainly ruled Ibiza in the summer of 1998. When Thomas Banglater (one half of Daft Punk) and Alan Braxe co-produced this one-off single under the moniker Stardust, no one could have predicted it would single-handedly jumpstart the disco house movement of the late 90’s, but it did.
When the Virgin record label offered the duo 3 million dollars to produce a full Stardust album, they refused, adding further mystique to the song as one that not even its creators could top. Granted, it’s the same hook-laden chorus sung over and over again, but even the most hardened wallflower can’t resist its beautiful simplicity. The appeal is universal, too; in Berlin, Tokyo, Rio, Moscow, and New York, people rush the dance floor when they hear this.
6. “Setting Sun.mp3” (single) – Chemical Brothers -1996 – Buy it
Over ten years have passed since “Setting Sun” was released and it still sounds ahead of it’s time. When the bass hits, it sounds all the oxygen getting sucked out of a room before a fire bomb explodes. Simmons and Rowland brilliantly recreated the Beatles’ legendary “Tomorrow Never Knows” riff, spliced its psychedelic, acid-drenched loop with heavy beats, and laced it with stunning vocals from Noel Gallagher, who already fancied himself a modern day John Lennon.
One reviewer aptly claimed it was like hearing Brit-pop perform a eulogy at it’s own funeral. “Setting Sun” reached #1 on the UK charts, a position previously reserved for alternative artists the likes of Blur and Oasis. It was a rare moment in modern British rock music in which the torch was literally passed from one genre to another.