Non-Album Tracks #8: ‘Live With Me’

Welcome to Non-Album Tracks. In this, the eighth edition, we have another obligatory-new-track-on-a-best-of-compilation. The last one, I held up as proof that such tracks ought not to be dismissed. This one goes further – this one ended up being probably the best track of the best-of compilation which spawned it.

Massive Attack – ‘Live With Me’
Released on:
Collected [Compilation – 2006]

Massive Attack - Collected

Also available on:
‘Live With Me’ [Single – 2006]

My relationship with Massive Attack has partly mirrored the one I have with Portishead. That is, for a long time – particularly when they were at the peak of their popularity, I didn’t really have any relationship with them.

Being long before XTRMNTR cured my of my electronic intolerance, I remained very skeptical when ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ seemed to be constantly airing on MTV. A couple of years later, I did find myself being quite fascinated by the similarly ubiquitous video for ‘Protection’. However, this was entirely related to the quality video itself (the work of a certain Michel Gondry). In fact, I distinctly remember finding the song quite boring.

The first time I really connected with any Massive Attack material was in 1998, courtesy of a World Cup-timed Adidas ad, which featured Alessandro del Piero, David Beckham, Patrick Kluivert and Zinedine Zidane – and the track ‘Angel’ from MA’s third album, Mezzanine:

The music was immense. But it didn’t spark me to dive into their music. (In fact, I think it was a while before I found out/realised that it was Massive Attack’s music in the ad.)  Nor the subsequent appearance of another MTV-dominating video, this one for Mezzanine‘s most renowned track, ‘Teardrop’. Neither of the singles from 2003’s 100th Window caught my ear, either.

My only other potential gateway was someone I knew (who’d made me that Portishead CD) being somewhat obsessed with the Protection single, ‘Karmacoma’. I liked it, but… I wasn’t going to bite.

‘Karmacoma’ also had an intriguing, somewhat freaky, Kubrick (The Shining)-inspired, vaguely controversial video. It was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who was also behind some equally-intriguing, but much less troubling stuff like Blur’s Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange)-inspired video for ‘The Universal’, Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’ and Jamiroquai’s ‘Virtual Insanity’. His greatest offering, though, was the intense, disturbing clip for UNKLE’s ‘Rabbit in Your Headlights’. (Oh, and he did that famous Guinness Surfer ad…)

I bring up Glazer because in 2006, after making a couple of forays into feature film-making (Sexy Beast and Birth – both of which I have still yet to see), he made his first music video in over half-a-decade.

This was seen as a big deal. It got a much-advertised premiere on UK’s Channel 4. And, it was all because it was Glazer – with not a much emphasis on the artist behind the track. I know I tuned in because of Glazer, and not because of whoever was responsible for the song. As it turns out, this was Massive Attack. The song – the obligatory new track on their best-of collection, Collected – was called ‘Live With Me’:

Now, when I set out to write this, I’d initially planned on not referencing this video. Mainly because, well, I don’t really like it. I really didn’t like it then. And my opinion of it has only marginally gone up since. I just don’t think it works.

It’s hard to watch – deliberately so, I’m not going to fault that. But it feels like he/they were going for something provocative just for the sake of it. Woman drinks herself into oblivion. Troubling. Harsh. Etc.

But it doesn’t serve the song. It doesn’t do it justice. Which is a shame, because it’s an amazing song.

I didn’t realize this when I saw that video, of course, because I was too distracted by the video. I don’t remember the song making any impact on me.

That didn’t happen until a few weeks – or maybe even a couple of months – later, when the alternative, performance-based video (also directed by Glazer, apparently(?)), focusing solely on guest vocalist Terry Callier, graced my television screen:

I was enthralled. The power of the track, diluted by that other, boozy video, came through intensely. This version was almost certainly commissioned solely so that the song could be aired pre-watershed/on more conservative channels. But it worked so much better.

Finally, I was able to fully embrace a Massive Attack track. I’m not sure what it was about this one. It essentially retreads the steps laid down by ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ all those years before – soulful vocals, relatively unobtrusive beats and swathes of strings. But its execution is impeccable.

I would later purchase Collected, which allowed me to reappraise those earlier singles. And I grew to love them (…except for ‘Protection’ – I still think that’s kind of boring…). But ‘Live With Me’, tucked away at the end of the compilation, still dominates.

I wonder if it’s my obsession with the sole non-album track on the compilation that has hampered desire to go and explore the back catalogue (as with Crowded House, I have, to this day, never listened to a Massive Attack studio album in full).  It’s probably just laziness though…