All those hours of consolation listening to 'Blue Lines', 'Protection', 'Mezzanine' and the best bits of '100th Window'; all the wondering about what would come out of the speakers when 'Heligoland' arrived. Seven years in the making, it's a record that you can both marvel at and find some faults with; one with classics, growers and misses, but one that suggests that Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall's best is yet to come.
The biggest shock on 'Heligoland' is that its weakest track, 'Flat of the Blade', is the one featuring Guy Garvey. Too heavy on woozy ambience and sometimes sounding like a tape at the wrong speed, it fails to make the best use of the Elbow frontman's voice and is more outtake than anthem.
Making up for that disappointment, however, are seven stunners. Opener 'Pray for Rain' features Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio and builds to 50 seconds of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear. 'Saturday Come Slow' brings a lump to the throat and ranks among Damon Albarn's finest work. Horace Andy's sweet tones on 'Girl I Love You' contrast brilliantly with the darkness of the music. Hope Sandoval wraps herself around the sultry 'Paradise Circus'. 'Splitting the Atom' is like the theme tune for a spooky carnival with Marshall the barker who's letting you in on something on the qt, while Del Naja excels on the album's two edgiest tracks, the drug chronicle 'Rush Minute' and closer 'Atlas Air', which recalls the soundtrack to 'Phantasm'.
Compared to this magnificent seven, the two songs with Martina Topley-Bird, 'Babel' and 'Psyche', sound a little dated, but give them some time and their charms become less opaque. Maybe they'll even figure as your favourites and two of the others will not. This is an album to get lost in, so who knows what you'll find.
Massive Attack's blend of catchiness, contrariness and cool is as alluring as ever on 'Heligoland' and, like its predecessors, this is an album to reach for again and again when darkness falls - inside and out. The disappointment when closer 'Atlas Air' fades out doesn't diminish, but neither does the elation that comes after a wild ride. Hopefully we can go on another new one before 2017.