The Soundtrack That Wasn’t There
Fusing soul and rap vocals to darkly beautiful rhythms, Massive Attack challenged music fans to accept trip-hop’s atypical sound. From burdened heroism in The Professional to stylish sci-fi in The Fifth Element, film director and producer Luc Besson similarly challenged audiences to accept atypical action films.One wonders if bringing together these challengers resulted in butting heads. Massive Attack’s soundtrack for Besson’s latest production predates the film’s debut by six months and stubbornly retains its old name, Danny the Dog. The fact that the album stands on its own four feet, unattached by time or title to any movie, is nothing short of a miracle.
Massive Attack execute a simple plan for the movie now called Unleashed. Their most aggressive instrumentation ever, harsher than 2003’s 100th Window, recalls forces keeping Jet Li’s onscreen street fighter enslaved; lighter atmospherics represent those that could redeem him.
With no outright obligations to clubland, and outside of film context, only a few songs here could fit on a proper Massive Attack album: “I Am Home,” “Right Way to Hold a Spoon,” “Polaroid Girl.” The score’s title track is its lone misstep, a meandering encapsulation of their “good” and “evil” musical cues.
Taken as a whole, Danny the Dog underscores the fact that Massive Attack are pure musicians and no mere knob-twiddlers. Recent scores by other electronic acts (Orbital, the Dust Brothers) only mimicked their films’ self-importance. In contrast, Massive Attack smartly retell through sound a story of viciousness and independence.