Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991): Review

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Produced by Massive Attack, Jonny Dollar and Booga Bear
Label – Circa/Virgin

Modern musical development will always contain recordings that are critically valued by influence and supposed sonic revelation. Instead of competing with the popular high tempo rave/acid house movement of the late 80s and early 90s U.K. music scene, Massive Attack carefully combined their own brand of hip hop, soul and reggae with unhurried rhythms and expansive keyboard textures. Their debut album, “Blue Lines”, would be considered the first trip hop album and lead to a number of well known acts including Portishead, Morcheeba and Groove Armada following in their wake. Originally part of a hard partying Bristol collective known as The Wild Bunch, Robert Del Naja (3D), Grant Marshall (Daddy G) and Andrew Vowles (Mush) formed Massive Attack in 1988, and with a great deal of promotional support from Neneh Cherry and husband Cameron McVey, signed a contract with Circa Records in 1990 for 6 albums and a greatest hits compilation. Shara Nelson and Horace Andy were brought in to provide the melodies, whilst Adrian Thaws (Tricky) would add his downbeat rhymes to three of the songs. The collection is a fine, if uneven introduction to a group that have maintained a positive reaction from music writer’s throughout their career. Indeed, many believe this to be their definitive artistic peak and the album continues to appear in many printed and online “best of” lists.

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The album is dominated by two singles which to all intents may be the key to its longevity, and cast the remainder of the collection fairly pallid in comparison. “Safe From Harm” carries with it a smooth Sly & Robbie sample, relentless rhythms and driven bass line. Even better, “Unfinished Sympathy” backs Nelson’s emotional howls with a wonderfully sumptuous string arrangement from Wil Malone which adds a haunting abetment that’s aided by a clinking bell like effect that wraps around the beat. As a complete collection however, there are a number of flaws, where supposedly outstanding originality can be traced too directly to the synthetic sounds of 80s soul and disco. “Be Thankful For What You Got” sounds more like a rough shod Pasadena’s demo and lacks the slick guitar driven groove of William De Vaughan’s original. “Lately” bears an uncanny resemblance to Amii Stewart’s mid 80s Euro disco with Mike Francis on her “Try Love” long player. The worst offender of all is the gruesome “One Love” which trudges along at a funereal pace with Andy delivering some of the most banal and repetitive lyrics supposedly “celebrating” his monogamy. “It’s you I love and not another. And I know our love will last forever. You I love and not another. And I know we’ll always be together” as the listener labours to comprehend that these are words supposedly portrayed on a “classic album” (and they get worse as he struggles on).

This may be the first review that doesn’t hail “Blue Lines” one of the greatest albums of all time and with every good reason. It’s a fairly good collection with a couple of flashes of brilliance and just as many (if not more) complete time wasters.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Safe From Harm 8
2 – One Love 4
3 – Blue Lines 6
4 – Be Thankful For What You’ve Got 6
5 – Five Man Army 6
6 – Unfinished Sympathy 9
7 – Daydreaming 6
8 – Lately 6
9 – Hymn Of The Big Wheel 7

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