Massive Attack -‘Blue Lines.’ (Virgin, 1991)
There are many albums that grab you from the off. To my shame, however, this was a band and album that I was aware of, and kinda liked but didn’t grow to appreciate until the end of the decade.
More fool me. Because the record that stands up most from 1991 is this album, over Screamadelica, Out Of Time, Bandwagonesque, and (whisper it) Nevermind is the debut album from the Bristol collective. It still sounds fresh and peerless almost twenty years after its’ release.
And it’s a thoroughly -and I mean this as a compliment – British record. Sure, it takes aspects from American and Jamaican music, but this is a record that showcases the best in what goes on in the UK. And not a skinny white indie boy in sight. It wasn’t even a record from London, it was from the West Country and featured amazing talent: the legendary Jamaican singer Horace Andy and launched the careers of both Shara Nelson and Tricky. It was music like this that as the nineties progressed, and I realised that I’d adopted a King Canute approach to much dance music, that I realised just how diverse and different it could be.Here there were live instruments and drums, it wasn’t just samples, people rapped in English accents, and weren’t aping the gangsta approach from the US. In 1989 Soul II Soul seemed to represent much of the future, but they ultimately failed to deliver over time. Massive Attack not only built on their potential – they took it to places few could have imagined.
It’s telling that I wasn’t the only person who was slow to catch on: though it was a commercial as well as critical success, it took a while to completely filter through. Track six, the timeless ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is now my favourite song of the last twenty years. As a fourteen year old I liked it, but wasn’t moved to buy the album at the time. Silly me. It was 1998 before it came no.1 in a poll of the best songs of all time. It’s certainly moves the heart as well as the head – how can something be so amazing, making you feel happy and sad all that the same time?
As well as ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ there are so many other classics on the record; it’s a debut that is just so strong, that as great as many of the other albums Massive Attack have made, none of them have been quite as amazing as as Blue Lines. And for my money, a stonger debut than Oasis, Suede or even Portishead. Final song ‘Hymn From the Big Wheel’ feels almost as religious as the name hymn might suggest. Opener ‘Safe From Harm’ captures urban paranoia perfectly – even if the video they made was seemingly repeated by themeslves for much of the next decade.
A faultless album, that really is a perfect ten. This is Britain taking its’ influences from overseas and producing something for us all to be proud of. Dance music coming of age. Phenomenal.