#419 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Ever
#95 on Q's Top 100 Albums Ever
Trip-hop? Some of you may be wondering, so here's a little history. In 1991, a group of people from Bristol, some previously members of a group called The Wild Bunch, came together to form a band called Massive Attack. The group was led by Robert Del Naja, known also as 3D. They recorded and released an album called Blue Lines, which proved itself to be a benchmark album of the 90s, and one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever. But hip-hop was almost too narrow a definition for it - while it was based in the hip-hop style of making music, it also incorporated chillout, and a little psychedelica. The critics soon labelled it 'trip-hop' - a term referring to chill-out hip-hop that - sterotypically - is listened to by stoners. With Massive Attack, Tricky, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead, and DJ Shadow as its leading lights, it has proved itself to be an incredibly fertile genre, with these acts and other, lesser-known ones releasing many great albums. Crucially, there's been very little rubbish released in the name of trip-hop, which is the precise reason I'd say it's my favourite genre of music.
This album, released in 1994, has proven itself to be one of the pillars of the genre. The band, essentially, is multi-instrumentalist Geoff Barrow (the tape-op for Massive Attack when Blue Lines was made), and singer Beth Gibbons. Yes, singer. This is an album steeped in hip-hop that features NO rapping whatsoever. All the instruments are recorded live, too, with the exception of the drums on It Could Be Sweet. So leave the prejudice at home.
At least, most people THINK it's just Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow. Adrian Utley certianly deserves a mention though. Guitarist recently ran a style file on him, and he once played with Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers, which should tell you something about his ability. The guitar parts on this album (although he is not on every track) are great. Subtle, and not exactly technically taxing, but great. There's some great use of chord inversions throughout, too, which I understand was partly down to his input. But I may be wrong there. He also plays bass on Pedastel, possibly the best bassline on the album. And his guitar work on Glory Box constitutes the album's high point.
That's not to talk down Beth Gibbons or Geoff Barrow. Beth was the star turn when this album was released; her voice was soon being called 'the most beautiful ever', and was drawing comparisons with Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Dusty Springfield, and just about any female soul singer you'd care to mention. I think that's a little too superlative, but she's certainly got some voice on her - fragile, tender, and soulful. Dusty Springfield is a fairly good comparison, as is - with hindsight - Eva Cassidy. Her lyrics are a plus point, too. Geoff Barrow? Well, it's hard to tell where his input starts or stops, to be honest, but the band was his idea, and he has writer credits on every song, so he's not exactly dispensable.
The quality of this album, and its ability to crossover to fans of any genre, is demonstrated by the fact that a live version of Glory Box, from a later album, is played on Classic FM, and on their TV channel. In fairness, Glory Box is the song that displays the least hip-hop influences, but I heard them play an orchestral version of Mysterons once, too, with the scratching left in.
The album only has one flaw - it dips in the middle. Mysterons and Glory Box are both amazing. Sour Times and It Could Be Sweet, also. But, while there's nothing wrong with tracks 5 through 9, they don't stand up to what's around them. That's not to say that they're bad, though. It may be because Glory Box casts such a long shadow. Although, you'll find these tracks sound great either in your headphones just as you're going to sleep, or when you've just had 2 or 3 glasses of red wine and are feeling in a very laid back, poetic kind of mood. (Incidentally, I find red wine always makes trip-hop better. :) )
This album comes thoroughly recommended to any fans of hip-hop (that's hip-hop music, not rap vocals), female soul vocalists, or anybody unfamiliar with trip-hop and who wants to experiment. It's not the best trip-hop album ever, but it's as good an introduction as any.
. Every time I listen to this album, I loop this song at the end - once I had it on loop for 2 hours. Features an excellent bassline - sampled from Issac Hayes - that managed to make its way onto every advert going here in the UK. Also features some great lyrics and great vocals from Gibbons, and the album's best guitar work. The solo works in some Hendrix-isms, and shares Dave Gilmour's appreciation of space. Sleazy and soulful, you can almost see it standing on a street corner in some 50's B-movie, smoking through a cigarette holder. One of the greatest songs ever, in my book.
Having said that, Mysterons
is the best representation of the album, being more of a hip-hop nature.