#395 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time
#56 on Q's Top 100 Albums Of All Time
Originally Posted by Me, in my review of Portishead - Dummy
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.
Speaking as somebody who makes a concerted effort to listen to everything, and appreciate every form and genre of music (and as someone who's pretty much succeeded in that quest), there's just something about trip-hop. I can honestly say I've yet to hear a trip-hop record I don't like. With some genres of music, I had to dig around a bit to find a band I truly love, but with trip-hop, it feels like there's an abundance of brilliant artists and brilliant albums. Portishead's Dummy. Anything by Tricky. Kosheen's Resist. Zero 7's Simple Things. Any number of remixes by The Sneaker Pimps. The Etro Anime tracks I'm occasionally treated to on LAUNCHcast. DJ Shadow's Entroducing, and The Private Press. That Muggs solo album. The ocassional trip-hop excursion by Radiohead.
Trip-hop also stands apart from almost every other genre in that the foundations are pretty much indisputed. Metal fans will argue over who we really owe metal to - Black Sabbath, for the concept? The Kinks, for introducing the idea of distorted riffs? Iron Maiden, for being the consumate metal band? And yet, the concept of trip-hop, almost all the musical ideas of the genre, and the consummate trip-hop band all arrived in one neat little package. There's no debate. We owe it to Blue Lines.
This becomes less surprising once you realise the amount of talent involved. Besides 3D (Robert Del Naja, the only member currently active in the band), there's Daddy G, and Mushroom, members of Bristol collective The Wild Bunch who had previously worked with Soul II Soul - the group responsible for Back II Life (However Do You Want Me), the song that almost single-handedly rejuvinated British urban music in the 80s, and the song that arguably provided the blueprint for Massive's biggest hit, Unfinished Sympathy. These three comprised Massive Attack's core, but that wasn't all. Tricky made his debut here, and would launch possibly trip-hop's greatest career (Massive aside) off the back of it. Two other, very talented, vocalists were also involved, in the form of Horace Andy and Shara Nelson. And as if that wasn't enough, the only trip-hop album to rival the impact of Blue Lines - Portishead's Dummy - was produced by Geoff Barrow, the tape op for this album. How about that for a group? If anyone ever tells you that 'too many cooks spoil the broth', slap them in the face with this album.
One of the many ways in which this album succeeds is through its eclecticism. There's a reason trip-hop is always mixing with other genres. This album gives you (and by extension, any budding trip-hopper) at least 5 examples of just how effective it can be. Unfinished Sympathy redefines soul, Lately delivers a bassline that screams 80s funk, Safe From Harm does both, the title track eats up pop-jazz, and Hymn Of The Big Wheel flirts with Yousou N'Dour-flavoured world music. Throughout, there are various nods to dub and reggae. And despite flirting with all these different styles, Blue Lines defines trip-hop by virtue of it's core - strip the songs down, and you're left with laid-back hip-hop designed, as Daddy G says, "for after clubs, when you want to chill out, learn how to breathe again.' Problem was, in the wake of this album, people stopped going to clubs and stayed at home getting stoned to possibly the most sublime soundtrack yet recorded. Were this album released in the days before CD, there'd probably have been as many spliffs rolled on its surface as on Dark Side Of The Moon's.
5 paragraphs in, time to actually discuss the quality of the music. Basically, it's stunningly high. There's no sense of this album being all impact and no staying power. The only song that drops the pace is Lately - otherwise, this is top draw stuff. The obvious highlight is Unfinished Sympathy, thanks to a comfortable level of familiarity (you'll know it, but you won't be bored of it yet), and although here's no song here that matches it, there's a few that come mighty close. Safe From Harm, Hymn Of The Big Wheel, One Love, and the title track all stand tall amongst Massive Attack's best compositions.
Scarily, this is not Massive Attack's best album (an accolade I, and many MusicianForums users, give to Mazzanine); however, it's the most crucial for understanding them and for knowing just why they are so important, and so loved.
This stands as the most critically acclaimed, loved, enduring, and revolutionary dance album of the 90s. Every time you listen to Air, Zero 7, DJ Shadow, Lamb, The Gathering, a Timbaland production, Asian Dub Foundation, or even Radiohead, Massive Attack are in there somewhere, and it's usually this album (unless you're Radiohead). How many dance albums can you say are geniunely essential? And how many 'chillout' albums? This album broke all the rules, and it still shows now.
Recommended Download -
The mighty, mighty Unfinished Sympathy. If you are new to trip-hop, this will be the song that takes you by the hand and escorts into a strange new world. If you're a seasoned listener, this remains one of the purest crystalizations of everything that makes trip-hop such a fertile genre. And either way, gasp in awe when you later download Angel and Teardrop, and suddenly realise - this isn't even their best song.
So I haven't heard anything from Massive Attack except that single off their latest release, screw me. I'm fairly new to trip-hop and I love what I'm listening to right now(Lovage, Portishead, DJ Shadow, The Avalanches..), so I'll definitely buy this or Mezzanine. Nice review!
That single, I'm guessing, is Special Cases? Love that song. Not that much like earlier stuff though. It got slated by most critics, too, which sucked.
A metal analogy for the two records -
If Blue Lines is Black Sabbath's debut, then Mezzanine is Masters Of Reality.
Edit: Having just looked at the 100th Window review, I noticed there's a fair few people on this site who don't rate Blue Lines at all. This may seem a little odd, but I'd love it if one of you could just post a short review.
Woah, how has this got so few comments? Not as good as Mezzanine, although not a lot is, but I can still really recommend this as being a very good album. Also, looking at the recommended albums,
Gorillaz - Demon Days
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us
UNKLE - Psyence Fiction
Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow
Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Eric B. and Rakim - Paid in Full
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
Shpongle - Tales Of The Inexpressible
are all fantastic too. I might actually prefer the vocals on here to those on Mezzanine, for the most part...it's the mood of Mezzanine that really gets me.
I love this album, it's just so fluid and chilled-out. What I like about this trio is, is that they don't put a whole lot of emphasis on rapping, they get in different vocalists ranging from soul singers to rock singers, and they don't necesarily put a whole lot of effort into making their vocals stand out, but it still has an overall positive effect. I love the instrumentation, the drumbeats in particular brilliant.
Very true, this is one of, if not the definitive trip-hop album. The king and the one that started it all. I think Blue Lines is the greatest of Massive Attack's albums, perhaps because i enjoy the hip-hop vibe on Blue Lines over the darker, more atmospheric noises the group would use later on. You have so many great tracks on this album, you got "Daydreaming", "Be Thankful For What You've Got", "Safe From Harm" and ofcourse "Unfinished Sympathy". This is personally, my favourite song of all time, out of all the songs i have listened to in my life, none has brought such a positive energy into my life than that one. I could walk the world a happier man when i listen to that song every morning.
This album is an absolute must have for anybody who is interested in this type of music or wants in on the trip-hop scene. It is THE album of a generation. Classic.
"Having just looked at the 100th Window review, I noticed there's a fair few people on this site who don't rate Blue Lines at all. This may seem a little odd, but I'd love it if one of you could just post a short review."
well, i can understand why people don't like it, especially if they have already established Mezzanine as massive's signature sound (which it is now), but back then it was quite a bit different.
the album is a huge grower, i don't recall liking it much at all on first listen. most of the tracks still amaze me as much as it did 6 years ago.
I've listened to Unfinished Sympathy a few times now, and maybe that's not enough, but I would say it is simply a good song. I've seen this listed as one of the best songs of the 90s and I'm just not hearing anything remarkable about it (in fact there are several songs on Mezzanine I prefer). Of course, most of these lists also include Nirvana in any capacity so I take their opinions with a grain of salt, but I still was hoping for more.