Virgin - 2003 -

Massive Attack albums might come around about as often as World Cups, but the notoriously unproductive Bristol trio usually make sure that each release is a musical event.

'Blue Lines' and 'Protection' were both wonderful, possibly the greatest albums of the 1990s. Massive Attack's combination of slick modernity with a rich appreciation of musical history was astounding and influential in equal measure, particularly on the classic singles: 'Unfinished Sympathy', 'Safe From Harm', 'Protection' and 'Karmacoma'.

The warmth and soulful edge of 'Blue Lines' had cooled a little on 'Protection', where paranoia and darkness first began to appear in the mix. This trend into musical depression spiralled downwards on 'Mezzanine', which was a below par effort.

By that stage, they had already lost the urgent raps of Tricky and the input of Soul II Soul's Nellee Hooper. Key member Mushroom also hit the exit after the release of 'Mezzanine', unimpressed with the glacial, bleak direction of the band's sound. Daddy G has since taken a sabbatical, leaving Robert "3-D" Del Naja as Massive Attack’s last man standing.

'100th Window' sees Del Naja reunited up with Neil Davidge, the producer of 'Mezzanine', and the similarity in sound between the two records is strong. Opener 'Futureproof' could have been swept off Mezzanine's cutting room floor. Exquisitely constructed, but uneventful and ultimately hollow, 'Futureproof' sets the tone for the rest of '100th Window'.

Sinead O'Connor has stepped into Liz Fraser's shoes as "Iconic Female Vocalist In Residence". The dome-headed Dubliner is complemented by exquisite guitar lines on 'What Your Soul Sings' while the prowling bass and leaden strings of 'Special Cases' melds perfectly with her emotionally raw vocal. O'Connor's contributions are undeniably 100th Window's best moments, but they suffer by comparison to the band's earlier records.

The charming idiosyncrasy of Jamaican singer Horace Andy has been produced into nothingness here. On 'Everywhen' he is characterless, lost in a sea of effects and overdubs, while 3-D’s indifferent vocals make 'Small Time Shot Away' the most unmemorable tune the band have ever released.

'100th Window' is the sound of genius retreating into its shell, in desperate need of new direction and inspiration. I hope they find it. The world needs them.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Future Proof - What Your Soul Sings - Everywhen - Special Cases - Butterfly Caught - A Prayer for England - Small Time Shot Away - Name Taken - Antistar