Review Summary: Blue Lines is a well-rounded, engrossing introduction to trip hop music.
Massive Attack have quite a reputation as one of the greatest trip hop groups of all time, probably because they are often credited with spawning the genre itself. Their debut album, Blue Lines, released in 1991, is a stimulating starting point for the trip hop movement. The album fuses various styles, including electronica, hip-hop, soul, and reggae, into one complete package.
Blue Lines takes many different angles in the process of conceiving an idea so original and so appreciable. This is unlike anything you will ever listen to. That is why the whole concept of classifying music is so confusing. Without the "trip hop" title, I'm not so sure anyone would be able to stick a label on these fellows. On Blue Lines the duo incorporates some electronic effects that augment that atmospheric factor of the album. They also polish their melodies with the sounds of several instruments, making the music feel very pensive and more sophisticated. Furthermore, the album's flow is practically impeccable with a steady distribution of downbeat, musing tracks and some nice changes of pace like the dynamic and incredibly exquisite "Unfinished Sympathy". The smooth transition from track to track demonstrates the creative control of the duo, as their propensity for an absorbing euphonic experience comes to light with each song.
Throughout Blue Line's duration, the hand of Massive Attack is strongly felt. Its detailed beats, versatile sampling and deviant sonic techniques attest to the numerous risks Massive Attack take with this album. The duo efficaciously embraces these perils and comes out the other end with a tightly knit bundle of genre-blending tracks. The alternation between the female vocals and the more hip-hop induced male vocals furnish "Safe from Harm" with a high degree of stamina. The bass on this track dominates as the principal instrument guiding the song along its narrow path. Massive Attack's hip-hop side comes to the forefront on the title track, assembling impressive rhymes overlaid with a meticulously sampled melody.
A major hallmark of the album is the choice of percussion. From the electronic beats to the diversified drums, the percussion section always leaves a particular impression on each song. For instance, on the song "Five Man Army", the repetitive drumbeat establishes a mesmerizing ambience as seductive as the hefty delivery of the steady vocals. The lyrics are also very provocative and socially conscious. Horace Andy sings phrases like, "Money, money, money, root of all evil" with a tone of painful psychological torment. Massive Attack successfully contain the moody feel of the album with the trancelike "Daydreaming". The tempestuous track takes the listener by the hand to a bizarre tract of musical ideas rarely touched. Here the beat nimbly floats along as the duo slides into a highly ambient backdrop.
The track "Lately" has a very retrospective feel that is underlined by the sampled R&B groove and the fuzzy production. The penetrating vocals glow with fervor, permeated by the aftermath of a flawed romantic relationship. With a compelling bassline the song sinks to a more personal level and bolsters feelings of regret and despondency. Throughout the LP, there is a clear focus on the sonic atmosphere and the sentiments that come along with it.
Massive Attack yield these sentiments by bearing a uniform quality across the nine tracks. This unity is achieved through subtle background elements such as recorded vocals that echo the primary vocals and looping electronic sounds. The high point of this ambient manipulation comes with the first thirty seconds of "Hymn of the Big Wheel", in which an uncanny collage of noise soon gives way to a meld of reflective lyrics and spiritual resonance. The song scrutinizes the endless cycle of war and peace and implies that we are all prisoners of this continuum of violence.
Massive Attack manage to engineer a spectacular debut album by exploiting the countless tools at their disposal. Blue Lines marks the promising inception for such an innovative and inspirational musical project. Encompassing a number of distinct musical styles, Massive Attack set themselves apart with their advancement of a new age of sound during a largely saturated musical period.
Hymn of the Big Wheel
Five Man Army