Twenty-five years after its release, Justine Brooks asks if Massive Attack’s debut album has stood the test of time.
What and why: Pioneering spirit and Bristolian vibe are the key ingredients to this iconic album. It was the soundtrack to the three years I spent as a student in Bristol, where down at the Thekla we’d see 3-D, Mushroom, Daddy G and Tricky Kid walk in like royalty. Perhaps we’d even get to talk gibberish with Tricky in the bar after a gig.
I first remember hearing their sound in the Moon Club (later Lakota), in its pre-refurb days down in St Paul’s. What Massive Attack created was a new and laid-back club groove that expressed a particularly Bristolian personality. They were more than a band: they were the whole city and their sound was part of an emerging scene that also featured Neneh Cherry, Massive Attack’s fairy godmother who bankrolled them while they got Blue Lines off the ground.
Rated or dated: In this album, Massive Attack created something that defied definition. It wasn’t soul or reggae or dub or funk or hip hop, it was the boundary blurring lot of them and it wasn’t until later that people started calling it trip-hop.
It was this new trip-hop sound that took the whizzy, ecstasy-fuelled rave scene down a peg or two and was just as much at home on the dancefloor as in a beanbag-strewn chill-out zone. Music was never the same again after this genre-defying debut and in those nine tracks Massive Attack arguably created their finest work.
Each track flows effortlessly and deliciously into the next – from the splendour of Unfinished Sympathy into the witty and streetwise Daydreaming to the smoulderingly sexy Lately and the album’s hauntingly soulful finale, Hymn of the Big Wheel, a collaboration between Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack and written to feature the vocals of Horace Andy.
Unfinished Sympathy, with its sweeping orchestrations and Shara Nelson’s soaring vocals, is the swooningly beautiful, anthemic superstar of Blue Lines and still incites spine-tingling elation in me to this day. But this album was about so much more: it was the voice of a generation.
“Maggie this, Maggie that, Maggie means inflation” rapped Tricky in the 1990 single Daydreaming. Earlier that year we had filled the streets and protested against the poll tax. We were a country about to go to war in the Middle East and the fear was palpable, so much so that Massive Attack changed their name to Massive around the time of the Gulf War, for risk of sounding too belligerent.
Blue Lines is about a point in time and that is very much 25 years ago. And yet, listening now, the variety of vocals on this album, the laid-back yet epic vibe, the devastating basslines on every track, mean that despite it being of a particular time and place, it’s still amazing and it still sounds fresh.
The benefits of nostalgia also mean that Blue Lines is undeniably a classic. It was made with heart and soul and was a piece of pure artistic collaboration. No one has made anything like it since. RATED.4514 Views
Justine lives in beautiful north Leeds with her 12-year-old daughter and a lurcher called Lionel. She runs a PR and marketing agency and is writing a novel.