Album review: Massive Attack - Blue Lines

By Scott Kara

Massive Attack. Photo / Supplied
Massive Attack. Photo / Supplied

Labels like trip hop and downbeat, which became synonymous with the music of Massive Attack during their 90s heyday, don't do their majestic 1991 debut album, Blue Lines, justice.

Taking influence from soul, funk, hip-hop, post-punk, dub, reggae, and the burgeoning underground British dance scene, as well as surely being inspired by Soul II Soul's Club Classics Vol. 1 released two years earlier, the Bristol band produced something poignant and entrancing.

And this reissue, 21 years on, has been remastered, making the songs sound even better.

Opener Safe From Harm is the perfect marriage of soulful vocals (courtesy of Shara Nelson) and menacing, husky rapping, with famous lines like "... spreading through your system like a virus". There's a breathtaking sonic shift when the moochy, mumbling title track, featuring Tricky, ends, with the words, "Take my piece of mind and sign my name across your heart", before launching straight into their cover of Be Thankful For What You Got, the essence of which they hardly mess with, because why would you?

Then there's Daydreaming and its gently hammering and meditative beat mantra; the hint of a club and disco vibe on Lately recalls Soul II Soul but with a deeper and more delicious groove, and the drama and beauty of Unfinished Sympathy makes it one of the best British songs ever written.

Even though Massive Attack - and Blue Lines especially - had far more impact in Britain than anywhere else in the world, it well and truly made its mark in New Zealand too, selling more than 30,000 copies.

Way back in the early 90s in Wellington my mates and I marvelled at this exotic, strange and spooky dance music, in between jumping around to Nirvana and howling along to the Pixies that is. And it's perhaps band member Daddy G who sums Blue Lines up best: "What we were trying to do was create dance music for the head rather than the feet."

As well as being the first of Massive Attack's best three albums - along with Protection (1994) and Mezzanine (1998) - Blue Lines also influenced Portishead's Dummy, Tricky's Maxinquaye, and Goldie's drum 'n' bass classic Timeless, as well as everyone from Radiohead and Moby through to modern day acts like the xx, Burial, and great British future pop hope Labrinth.

At 10 tracks and just under 45 minutes, Blue Lines doesn't have a single superfluous sound or word on it. It was an album that took you away to another, more magical world - and that's the sign of a truly classic record.

Stars: 5/5
Verdict: Still a landmark album 21 years on

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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