LONDON (Billboard) - The gaps between Massive Attack albums may widen as the enigmatic British act’s career span lengthens. But fans’ patience has clearly kept pace.
Massive Attack’s much-delayed “Heligoland” (Virgin/EMI) — only the fifth studio album in a two-decade career, arriving seven years after its predecessor, “100th Window” — became the veteran group’s highest-charting album on the most recent Billboard 200. It debuted at No. 46 with sales of 18,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It also bowed at No. 11 on Top Digital Albums and No. 4 on Top Electronic Albums. In the United Kingdom, “Heligoland” entered at No. 6 on the albums chart, selling more than 32,000 copies, according to the Official Charts Co.
Band member Grant “Daddy G” Marshall jokes that the long delays over “Heligoland” had much to do with him and fellow founding member Robert “3D” Del Naja being “lazy bastards.” In fact, its completion was held up by the act’s extensive live work.
“We had two prototypes and (shelved) them,” he says. “We got back from touring, and the project wasn’t quite sitting right with us.”
Massive Attack’s critical cachet in the United States has resulted in slow-burn success rather than blockbuster openings. The act’s previous high-water mark was 1998’s “Mezzanine,” which peaked at No. 60 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 560,000 units. Its 1991 debut album, “Blue Lines,” has sold 266,000 despite its failure to chart, while 1995’s “Protection” stands at 292,000 and 2003’s “100th Window” moved 180,000.
“They’ve always managed to find (U.S.) success through press and music licensing,” Dan Cohen, Virgin’s New York-based vice president of marketing, says.
Most prominent among the group’s myriad U.S. licensing deals has been the use of “Mezzanine” track “Teardrop” in the hit series “House” — a mainstream flirtation that makes the group somewhat nervous. “That’s why we try to reinvent ourselves every five years, to move those shadows,” Marshall says.
“Teardrop” features vocals by former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser. “Heligoland” continues the band’s collaborative tradition. Guests on the album include Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur), Guy Garvey (Elbow), former Tricky collaborator Martina Topley-Bird and longtime Massive Attack alumnus Horace Andy.
“We’ve always wanted to work with Martina because she has that Bristol connection,” Marshall says, referring to his and Del Naja’s U.K hometown. “Guy is an amazing writer, and Damon is a complete genius.” Albarn joined the band onstage for two songs during its February 11 show at London’s 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo.
“There’s been an evolution with Massive Attack from what was essentially a DJ culture thing,” Marshall says. “The fact that we’re at a stage now where we consider ourselves a force in the (live) arena, it’s another form of evolution — enjoying the game and trying to take things a bit further.”