Massive Attack — Danny The Dog

RZA’s score of Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai remains the best downtempo/abstract soundtrack. But Massive Attack’s score of Luc Besson’s film Danny The Dog is just out on Virgin, well in advance of the film’s 2005 release date. The film — also known as Unleashed — stars Jet Li as an enslaved fighter who is befriended by a blind musician (Morgan Freeman).

It is perennially hard to tell who comprises Massive Attack from one album to the next. At the moment it seems (not least from the sound of this release) that Massive Attack is currently 3-D (Robert Del Naja) and co-producer Neil Davidge, with Daddy G (Grant Marshall) remaining ‘on leave’ from active collaboration. It was the Del Naja-Davidge partnership that wrapped up 100th Window in six or seven months, after scrapping months of sessions with rock band Lupine Howl. Danny The Dog has appeared after a considerably shorter interval than divided past Massive releases.

It’s always been interesting to chart the ebb and flow of influences as successive members of Massive Attack have arrived and (mostly) departed. The charm and innocence of Lovers Rock, which informed Blue Lines, seem to have disappeared entirely with the departure of founding member Mushroom (Andrew Vowles). In Daddy G’s absence, the reggae and dub influences have taken a back seat. That left the finely chiseled — almost clinical — sound of last year’s 100th Window. While the album was more immediately accessible than 1998’s Mezzanine, it had a glassy production sheen that enhanced the feeling of claustrophobic paranoia.

Danny The Dog feels more open, though perhaps that’s in the nature of the soundtrack genre. Moody piano loops and staid string figures abound; moments of brittle prettiness in “Sam” and “Two Rocks & A Cup Of Water” veer towards generic soundtrack time-filling. On the other hand, it’s plainly a Massive release: there are drum samples so muddied that they are almost indistinguishable from one another, recalling the underwater quality of Req’s 1995 album One.

As for the influences, there remain tantalizing hints of Britain’s late-70s Two-Tone sound; the guitar riffs that open “One Thought At A Time” have some of the pace and attitude of punk but the blocky and jumpy shape of ska.

Any Massive Attack release is welcome, and this one has several moments of opaque brilliance. In any event, it’s nice to hear a step back from the closed production density of 100th Window.

There are audio samples via the Massive Attack site.

Del Naja and Davidge have also worked on the score for Saul Dibb’s film Bullet Boy. Rumours persist that Daddy G will return for the fifth studio album, to be released sometime next year. Apparently Mos Def and Tom Waits will be involved. In the meantime, there’s Daddy G’s DJ Kicks.

Massive Attack, Danny The Dog (OST)

(Virgin, 2004)