Most writers have their choice of one musician or group that inspires them no matter what the genre of material they write. Different songs reflect different characters. Each song is so dynamic and individual that it can fit one idea so perfectly and the next track on the CD will fit another completely unlike the first. This music causes us as writers to open up our minds through our ears as we listen to each song. It’s our go-to selection. It’s usually the first thing we throw on in order to culminate ideas, to prepare for the writing journey ahead, or to end one. I, personally, love many varied types of music and have a broad music library. However, Massive Attack is, by far, my go-to source for finding inspiration in writing projects.
Massive Attack is a trip-hop duo from London comprised of Grant “Daddy G” Marshall and Robert “3D” Del Naja. They were one of the groups that really started the trip-hop genre and have been cranking out awesome tunes since 1988 (the year I was born.) Massive Attack has five studio albums, two compilation albums and EP’s, and nearly twenty single albums. Their music has been used in films, television series, and on commercials.
I’m going to select some of my favorite songs, particularly the ones that have inspired me the most, and discuss them today.
Heat Miser: Concentration. Relaxation. Despite these two reigning feelings, I always get the sense of panic behind them. Time is running out. Whether or not the person is hiding and waiting someone out, or they’re the one looking, time is of the essence in ‘Heat Miser.’ The heavy breathing that sets part of the beat for the song instantly gives me a glimpse of the tropics or possibly India. The air is muggy and perspiration slathers the skin. Whatever needs to happen is of great importance. One person hides while the other pursues. That or…something completely and totally different. An intimate setting, loyalties tested as two people draw closer. Neither one completely trusts the other but for the sake of their own agendas, they pair up regardless of the consequences.
Angel: This is one of my top 10 songs, probably number 2 on my list of favorites. ‘Angel’ implies a dark and dangerous atmosphere, contrasting with its title. This song is all about several characters, all whom are about to collide due to them following their own paths and seeking to end whatever misery has corrupted their lives. As they walk toward this end, they realize that they might not come out of it alive. Still, they must go. They can’t go on living the way they are. There is also an intensity in this piece that gets ignored. The tune changes from a very calm, eerie beginning to a thrumming height as the music grows louder and the beats get stronger. On another level, this song can be directed toward a single person who is standing up for themselves for the first time. Bullied, thrown down, and ridiculed for most of their life, now they see their chance to get even and move on. The song follows their ascent to change the status-quo.
Dissolved Girl: Broken record. Things are spinning round and round repeatedly. The situation continues to spiral and no one makes a move to end it. Everybody is trapped in this lie being spun and no one has control. The scary thing is that they could all walk away if they wanted to. The end could be to their left or their right and all it would take was one step in either direction to put themselves toward it. Instead, for some reason, they continue circling the drain, content somehow in this misery their living. Change is too scary. On the other hand, change is a necessity. There are those who won’t change because they feel safe. There are those who need to change, who need to adapt in order to live the way they need to. In order to make those changes, they need everybody behind them. Obstinacy won’t be tolerated. And in this case, perhaps the safety of keeping things the way they are is the right way. The society is split.
What Your Soul Sings: Featuring the enchanting voice of Sinead O’Connor, this song could be all about recognizing our deepest desires verses our basic needs. How far can one go to ignore what is most needed in life in order to satisfy their cravings and wants? What exactly does this person give up in order to achieve contentedness? Do they sacrifice their need for shelter so that they can indulge in the automobile of their dreams? Do they stop eating in order to pursue a near unattainable career? Do they push away their friends and family so that they can indulge in superficial relationships with strangers? In different eyes, perhaps this song is a revelation. Perhaps someone is finally seeing the light and recognizing that what they’ve been doing has been wrong. They’ve been so blinded that they allowed things to nearly fall apart. But now, there is hope. Things will begin to look up and light finds its way through the dark.
Splitting the Atom: Corruption. It’s everywhere. Beneath the fingernails of the city, it lurks. It slowly grows the more that people choose to embrace or ignore it. Gangs patrol neighborhoods in search of new recruits. Illegal casinos hidden in rundown buildings pop up and multiply. People escape into it hoping to change their lives and instead expose themselves to further self-destruction. Those who avoid it are hardly able to do so forever. It’s only a matter of time until they, too, will need to join in. In the background, there’s a new king in town. Rumors of him have spread through the underworld like a plague spreading through a population. He’s arrived, searching for a reason to start things over. His reputation is one that will never die and one he can’t outrun. His presence sets off a flare of events. Some are grateful he’s arrived and fling themselves to his service, despite him not needing them. Others see him as a threat to their growing enterprises. He needs to be dealt with. And soon.
Psyche: The dazzling music video for this features millions of mayflies, a creature that only lives for a day. These 24 hours are meaningful and precious. Living them at your fullest is a gift that many take for granted, always expecting things to be better tomorrow. The character has chosen this day in particular to spend with one goal on the horizon. They devote anything and everything to achieving this goal within the twenty-four hour time period and get creative in doing so. For some reason or another, this song also makes me think of CSI. Uncovering tiny clues in hopes of catching a murderer. Everything must be documented and inspected thoroughly. There is a process and a method. Everything is to be analysed with care. One slip up could cost them the identity of a killer. Therefore, nothing can go wrong.
Flat of the Blade: Unlike the last six songs which have all had multiple inspirations, I can only think of one distinct one for this song. It’s from the point of view of an assassin, whom has been out of commission for several years due to a stress related condition. Perhaps PTSD, perhaps split personality. Whatever it is, he’s now returning to the field and things have changed in that time. He’s unsure of the market; unsure of the people who would hire him for his services. He’s also crippled by the idea that he’s not truly over what happened to him. Rather than confront it again, he wants to move on and leave it all behind.
Atlas Air: The protegee. The son. The daughter. The childe. He/She has finally become what others have been pushing him/her to become ever since they were young. It involves changing. Digging nearly everything out that made them who they were and replacing it with qualities similar to those pressuring them. It was an unwanted but necessary choice they had to make for the better. They are willing to shed blood to protect their families and their family’s secrets. It has cost them a piece of their humanity. Loyalty, sometimes, requires more than just a shard.
Teardrop: Probably one of Massive Attack’s most recognizable pieces. I consider this song one of the most cerebral of theirs. Confessing is difficult. Holding secrets inside somehow seems easier just as we’re about to let everything out. But the longer things stay inside, the more they choke you, the heavier the burden becomes. It seems like it should be easy. And yet, lying comes to us all naturally and is usually our first instinct. It’s especially hard if the truth will hurt the person you’ll be telling it to. You want to spare them the bad feelings, the embarrassment, the shock, the grief. The confession will be like an inferno consuming the air and eating up whatever remained that was good. Who’s teardrop will be the first to fall on it?
Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be discussing a few of Loreena McKennitt’s songs. Stay tuned for my Cooking Adventures post on Thursday, where I’ll be cooking Cajun Chicken Pasta!