The gaps between Massive Attack albums may widen as the enigmatic British act’s career span lengthens. But fans’ patience, however, has clearly kept pace.
Massive Attack’s much-delayed “Heligoland” (Virgin/EMI)-only the fifth studio album of a two-decade career, arriving seven years after its predecessor, “100th Window”-becomes the veteran group’s highest- charting album on the Billboard 200 this week. It debuts at No. 46 with sales of 18,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It also bows at No. 11 on Top Digital Albums and No. 4 on Top Electronic Albums. In the United Kingdom, “Heligoland” enters 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 traditionally 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,” Virgin’s New York-based VP of marketing Dan Cohen says.
Most prominent among the group’s myriad U.S. synch deals has been the use of “Mezzanine” track “Teardrop” in the Fox-TV smash “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.
“Heligoland” continues the band’s collaborative tradition. “Teardrop” features vocals by former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser. Other 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. “Guy is an amazing writer, and Damon is a complete genius.” Albarn also joined the band onstage for two songs during its Feb. 11 show at London’s 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo.
U.K. touring began last September, and the band played additional British dates in February before heading to Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. U.S. shows will follow, which “will help immensely,” Cohen says. “They’re really serious about doing proper touring.”
To reintroduce Massive Attack stateside, Virgin released the group’s scene-setting “Splitting the Atom” EP last October. While its SoundScan total is just 4,000, Cohen says the EP did its job.
“That was big for reminding folks they’re here,” he adds. “Setting up this record, [the] same fans are still here-the same music supervisors, the same radio stations, the same press. This campaign is about still going strong a year from now.”
Prerelease online activity saw remixes by Gui Boratto, Tim Goldsworthy, Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yukihiro Takahashi, She Is Danger and Breakage made available for streaming exclusively on Facebook.
London-based Virgin VP of marketing Sarah Sherry adds that a series of short films was made, with directors like Baillie Walsh, Jake Scott and Dougal Wilson each choosing album tracks to illustrate.
“We’ve got a hell of a lot of content to use online,” Sherry says. Virgin is also planning TV and radio appearances around the stateside live dates.
“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.”