Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/4/09.
In the decade that introduced the world to house music and electronic music. The 1990s was truly a watershed moment for the genre as it moved away from the world of synth-pop and dance music. It was at this time during the late 80s and early 90s that DJs and musicians began to experiment with new instruments and gadgets to create new sounds. One sub genre that came out of electronic music from the early 90s is trip-hop. A blend of hip-hop, moody electronic music, soul, dub, and jazz. It was a sound that helped give hip-hop artists and MCs a chance to experiment with new sounds. Among those artists who would help shape that genre was a trio of DJs and rappers collective known as Massive Attack.
Formed as a production trio in 1988, the collective featured MC Robert Del Naja aka 3D, DJ/rapper Grant Marshall aka Daddy G, and DJ/producer Andrew Vowles aka Mushroom. Massive Attack spent a few years in Bristol working in the club scene and shaping dance and electronic music throughout the years as part of the Wild Bunch collective that featured producer Nellee Hooper and vocalist/producer Tricky. During those years, the group began to shape a sound with slower rhythms, smooth bass grooves, break-beats, and jazz samples that would shape the sound of trip-hop. Collaborating with several vocalists including Neneh Cherry that helped spawn some underground buzz. Then in April of 1991, the music world suddenly changed with the release of the group's landmark debut album entitled Blue Lines.
Produced by Massive Attack with Cameron McVey, and Jonny Dollar, Blue Lines is an album filled with groove-laden, soothing electronic music driven by reggae dub bass lines, 70s soul music samples, hip-hop break beats, and slower rhythms that would help shape the genre. With all music performances by the trio of 3D, Daddy G, and Mushroom with 3D and Daddy G contributing vocals. The record includes appearances from vocalists, some of whom would become frequent collaborators, like Horace Andy, Neneh Cherry, Shara Nelson, and Tricky. The result would be a record that would help change the face of electronic music and the Bristol music scene for many years to come.
The album opener and third single Safe From Harm opens with a throbbing bass line and smooth, bouncy beats that drive the song with swooning, windy synthesizer backgrounds and another swooning synthesizer that accompanies Shara Nelson's vocals. With Nelson's soulful vocals with 3D singing backup with his raspy vocals with lyrics about the dark nightlife. With warbling guitars playing a funky riff with its driving bass lines as it features superb, atmospheric production that sets the tone for the rest of the album. One Love with Horace Andy on vocals features slow beats, melodic synthesizers, and Andy's high-tenor reggae-style vocals. With its simple lyrics about one love, it's a song that features a dark sound with turntable scratches, guitars, and samples of melodic horn blares.
The title track featuring Tricky is a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music. With its throbbing beats, turntable scratches, and smooth jazz hooks, it's one of the album's most definitive moments as it features jazz pianos and Tricky's laid-back raps as he switches verses with Daddy G and 3D. With its slow yet calm presentation of throbbing beats, soothing keyboards, and lyrics referencing pop culture and the world in its atmospheric, laid-back tone. Be Thankful For What You've Got is a cover of the 70s soul classic by William DeVaughn. With its smooth, bouncy beats with turntable scratches, throbbing bass lines, and Tony Bryan's soulful, high-tenor vocals with its hopeful lyrics. With a dose of funky guitars and backing vocals, it's an amazing cover that is a cool reinterpretation of the 70s soul classic.
Five Man Army features bouncy, dub-style beats with clap-like snares and cymbal crashes as it features Daddy G's low-sounding rap with fast-paced lyrics as it features backing from Horace Andy. With swanky, reggae style guitars and dub-like bass lines, it features Tricky doing a rap as it includes additional rap from Claude "Willie Wee" Williams and 3D doing a smooth, raspy rap with Andy's nasally-style vocals. Unfinished Sympathy is another of the album's groundbreaking tracks with its fast-paced beats, turntable scratches, soothing string arrangements by Wil Malone, and flourishing keyboard melodies. With Shara Nelson's somber yet wailing vocals, it's a song that really sets the stage of 1990s dance and electronic music as it features an array of beats that are fast yet rhythmic arrangement as it's a song that is truly mesmerizing.
The album's first single Daydreaming with Shara Nelson and Tricky is a funky track with throbbing rhythms in its scratchy beats and bass lines with Nelson's soothing, dreamy vocals and Tricky's cool, backing vocals. With melodic synthesizers playing to Tricky's rap with its daydreaming lyrics as Daddy G and 3D pop up for a rap with Tricky leading the way. With Nelson returning to sing a soulful, sensual vocal with Tricky's rap, it's a track that is powerful in its arrangements and production. Lately is a bouncy, mid-tempo track with warbling bass synthesizers, turntable scratches, and thumping beats as it accompanies Nelson's soothing vocals. Led by its warbling synthesizer melody, it's a song that plays it cool while being funky as Nelson's vocals really shine.
The album closer, fourth single, and what is probably one of its finest cuts is Hymn Of The Big Wheel with main vocals by Horace Andy plus arrangements and additional vocals by Neneh Cherry. With its swooning synthesizers with melodic flourishes and thumping, sputtering beats with a slow rhythm, it's Andy's smooth, reggae-inspired vocals with its hopeful lyrics that really captivates the song's mood. With its famed chorus where Andy is joined by Neneh Cherry, it's a song that is wonderfully produced with great arrangements for the synthesizers and drum machine beats as it sets a cool, soothing mood to end the album.
Released in April of 1991 in Britain, the album was hailed as a landmark record from critics all over Britain though sales were slow until the release of Unfinished Sympathy as a single. When the record was released in the U.S. in August of that year, it received similar acclaim though it didn't make much of an impact. Still, the record managed to become a landmark for electronic music in Britain as the electronic music scene started to gain ground with various sub genres forming through clubs all over Britain. Even as the Madchester music scene from Manchester was starting to die down.
Blue Lines is a cool, atmospheric, and seductive debut record from Massive Attack that is truly one of the best debut albums ever made. Audiences interested in the trip-hop sub genre will no doubt see this as the best place to start as well as for those interested in Massive Attack outside of compilations. Thanks to the vocal contributions of Tricky, Shara Nelson, Tony Bryan, and Horace Andy. It's a record that is fun to listen to at night while wanting something that isn't a full-on party album as it just wants to play it cool. In the end, Blue Lines is a landmark recording for electronic music and the trip-hop sub genre from Massive Attack.
(C) thevoid99 2011