In other words, how to properly experience the best remix album of the 1990s for its silver anniversary
I was washing dishes and making tacos when I first took half the THC lozenge in preparation for this piece but the first full-blown “high” thing I’m noticing on one of my all-time favorite albums is the absurd groan of the distorted kick on the lead.
Then before the fricasseed Tracey Thorn vocal comes in, the dubmasters lose their track in a hail of plunging metal, what sounds like a whole silverware drawer puttering to the floor, like oops, an outtake. But they leave it in. In fact, they made it special. Then the harshly mixed triangles and Thorn’s endless echoing “-ike, ike, ike, ike” and “taketaketaketake” fill the space. A single oceanic guitar chord. They taste each sound, one at a time. Is this Protection remixed or a tasting platter of its stems? Fart bass has never felt so comfortable, so couchy.
I’ve listened to No Protection countless times — sorry for only mentioning the title this far down —but this may be the first while I felt all eight and a half minutes of “Radiation Ruling the Nation,” a song that I’m told the people in High Fidelity care about. Sure. Oh, “Bumper Ball Dub” is cavernous. Those sloshing snares are punching me very, very gently in the gut. How did anyone ever get sober enough to finish making these tracks?
It’s very possible that the song is becoming the sour cream I’m spooning out and vice versa. Dub albums are so simultaneously relaxing and disruptive, repeating sounds you thought were going away but instead they’re caught in the ear drain, circling and circling with unnaturally pregnant sustain. The flute-o-thing I recognize from the original tune “Karmacoma” but I don’t remember it sounding so much like Enigma.
OK, “Trinity” zaps you. I don’t know what to do here. “Three, three, three” insists the disembodied voice, while the singer interrupts herself. The beat’s calm but…that synth is still zapping me. It’s like a laser bee. That’s some Bloomberg shit. Whether or not you aspire to drive a car full of laser bees depends on…I forget. This feels like a safe space to forget a lot of things. Including Bloomberg. I never noticed the end of this song just sounds like an endless fucking spinning bowl. We are out of tortillas and the night is just beginning.
“Cool Monsoon” sounds like I’m getting a lap dance from a cash register. I’m gonna need back support for this. The jazzy cocktail piano is normal and centered but every individual percussion impact is going off on its own in whatever direction. Galloping away, tiptoeing from speaker to speaker. I can’t believe how much attention I’m paying to an album I’ve used as a sleeping aid since I was a kid. Oh my god the bassline is going to make me throw up. It’s in my chest and it keeps feeling like it’s going to rise up into my throat.
Dub is a very special joy in that I can’t think of another genre that exists just to fuck up previously made recordings from existing stylistic coalitions. Or is that every electronic song, i don’t know. You ever feel like you were at a good peak a while ago and you’re ready to slide into the comedown but, oh no, you’re floating back up? I can’t believe “Cool Monsoon” is still on. I love this song but this is a very uncool monsoon.
I wonder how they decided on these track lengths, like, did Massive Attack have to draw straws and be like, sorry “I Spy,” you only get to be 5:07 but “Eternal Feedback” gets a whole extra minute and a half? Speaking of which, those tense movie strings and sledgehammer snares make this easily the least relaxing tune on the record. It sounds like it’s supposed to be scoring a car chase in slow motion. It has too much purpose. I love, love, love this album, don’t get me wrong. But it’s making me work and the taco supplies are depleting. I can’t believe I was able to Google “emdash” like this.
What is the connection between dub and water? The end of “Eternal Feedback” is all wet and squeaky, but I know I’m not being a conspiracy theorist when I say dubmasters like to splash around, take different “dry” signals and make them soggy, see what kind of shapes the instruments take when they’re all melted together like crayons in a cast iron. “Moving Dub” is particularly jolting because it’s doing that whirring-jars-in-your-ear-path thing and having entire discrete sung clauses at the same time where all the previous tracks seemed to just vibe on one word. Beauty is in the high of the beholder.
Have I ever made it to the end of No Protection? Is there an end of No Protection? If I just keep swimming deeper in, is there gonna be an opening on the other side? I can live with dying at the bottom of this.
We’re only on track six.
“I Spy” begins with these fluttering woodwinds and some banging on pipes three bathrooms away and this impatient bassline and even though Spring Heel Jack’s Busy Curious Thirsty is still two years away, I feel like they were plotting this whole time. Oh no, the kick drums. Is this what it’s like to kick Pink Floyd in the dick? Everything in the track has finally stopped edging and they’re all levitating at once. I find it hard to believe this is a remix, it has too much of its own identity. Which brings up a good point: Are remixes just identity thieves? Are dub plates just really high plates.
I don’t know how I’m gonna write my PJ Harvey To Bring You My Love anniversary piece after this, some of the intoxication might seep in and I don’t even know how that record would work with drugs. “Backward Sucking” is the last song and if that title doesn’t summarize this entire genre into one perfectly cast two-word continuum. Is backward sucking the opposite of sucking? Is it the good kind (hand motion) or is this a Dorothy and Toto twister kind of thing?
This song feels like being inside a very slow tornado. Or being inside a bong. All the bubbling and breathing noises. Is there really any other trip-hop besides this album? I’m not sure anything else has earned the “trip.” There’s congas and if you listen hard, a buried stomping drum pattern that sounds kind of like “When the Levee Breaks” while all this witches’ brew shit like boils around it. But it’s so focused. There’s a center. For all the traveling going on here, this album has a solid ground beneath it. Maybe that’s why… fuck. I forget.
AUDIO: Massive Attack v. Large Professor No Protection (full album)