MASSIVE ATTACK Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., 206-682-1414, www.theparamount.com. $38. 8 p.m. Wed., April 26.
Primal Scream, "Exterminator" (Astralwerks, 2000).
Horace Andy, "Money Money" (Melankolic, 1997).
Everything but the Girl, "Before Today" (Atlantic, 1996).
Cocteau Twins, "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" (4AD, 1990).
Tricky, "Hell Is Round the Corner" (Island, 1995).
Madonna, "Frozen" (Warner Bros., 1998).
Soul II Soul, "Back to Life" (Atlantic, 1989).
TV on the Radio, "New Health Rock" (Touch and Go, 2004).
William DeVaughn, "Be Thankful for What You've Got" (Roxbury, 1974).
Terry Callier, "Keep Your Heart Right" (Polygram, 1998).
Mad Professor, "Radiation Ruling the Nation/Protection" (Wild Bunch, 1995).
Mos Def, "Ms. Fat Booty" (Priority, 1999).
"You're the book that I have opened/And now I've got to know much more," sang Shara Nelson—one of Massive Attack's many collaborators—on "Unfinished Sympathy," in 1991, since then a contender on several music polls for Best Song of All Time. Cellos, pianos, scratching, and Nelson's soprano combine over a rolling hip-hop beat so that even when she mourns "Like a soul without a mind/In a body without a heart/I'm missing every part," it makes you feel all of yours.
Fifteen years on, Massive Attack are still working with relatively unknown and underrated vocalists, like folk singer Terry Callier, whose "Live With Me" previews their upcoming Weather Underground on the just- released Collected. Combed from a sometimes iffy back catalog of just four proper albums, the comp is worth owning if you're new to MA, have never seen 12 Demos, or really need the handful of alternate, live, and soundtrack songs. It's also a reminder that collaborations are often where Massive Attack's genius lies. Making imprints on the music in their own "voice," Wild Bunch–era producers like Nellee Hooper, who made enduring '80s dance tracks like "Back to Life," and TVOR's Dave Sitek, who MA are working with today, have also kept things fresh. With that in mind, this is what I'll be listening to before seeing Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant "Daddy G" Marshall—MA's two remaining members—for the first time. It's a wide-angle view of their co-conspirators and behind-the-scenesters, whose own music is as inspiring.
Primal Scream's abrasive single "Exterminator" is literally the sound of disobedience. MA, who remixed it, were always political, once nearly suing Britain's Conservative Party for co-opting Mezzanine's "Man Next Door." A social consciousness lurks in their songs' shadows, like Blue Lines' "Five Man Army," where Horace Andy incorporates his treatise on the root of all evil, "Money Money." On Mezzanine, the reggae legend's falsetto made "Angel" all the creepier.
Elizabeth Fraser also became a Mezzanine MVP, with "Teardrop" lauded as "the best Cocteau Twins song never recorded." Her work with that band is as essential as Walking Wounded, made in part by Tracey Thorn, the voice of MA's "Protection." Tricky's "Hell Is Round the Corner" uses the same string bed as Portishead's "Glory Box," belying Bristol's shared musical sensibilities. And Madonna? Her MA-produced remake of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" is shite—"Frozen" is her closest approximation of the band's sensuality.
An unlikely guest, Mos Def lent his voice to Collected outtake "I Against I," but this playful rap better sums up the mix. "Showing me her tan line and her tattoo/Playing Sade's 'Sweetest Taboo'/Burning candles/All my other plans got canceled"—I think Del Naja and Grant would agree that's what all this mood making is really about.