A nearly four-year layoff has taken some of the massive out of this British outfit's latest attack. Their 1991 debut, Blue Lines, which featured core members 3-D, Mushroom, Daddy G and an impressive assemblage of part-time singers and musicians, was a flawless synthesis of pop, soul, hip-hop, funk and dubbed-up reggae styles. But this follow-up is sluggish, often sounding uninspired and drunk on its own languor. Though guest vocalist Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl offers enchanting performances on both the title song and "Better Things," she lacks the soulful punch necessary to rub out the memory of former band member Shara Nelson, now a solo artist. And despite newcomer Nicolette's nice turns—she rides "Three" to clubland bliss and works wonders with her head-turning Billie Holiday-gone-awry vocal manner on "Sly"—she never transcends the novelty-diva approach. Like the other performers on Protection, Nicolette displays lots of style but little emotion. (Virgin)"