Blue Lines

Massive Attack

Virgin Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Blue Lines is one of the most influential albums of the past decade. It is to dance music what Nirvana's Nevermind is to grunge. For a band whose debut album has had such an impact on music, Massive Attack is truly remarkable. This album arguably created a whole new genre itself: trip-hop, an offshoot of dance music. At the very least, it was definitely the first trip-hop album to be a big commercial as well as critical success. Though musically simple, Blue Lines was very much ahead of its time as far as its style is concerned.

As an album, Blue Lines is sexy, seductive and subfusc. The opening track "Safe From Harm," with its killer bass-hooks, eerie background music, and Shara Nelson's mysteriously seductive vocals, is a perfectly gothic dance number. This is followed by "One Love," which is all orgasms galore. Instead of going overboard with sexuality like a lot of songs by Madonna or Prince, "One Love" is subtle, smooth, and effusively erotic. The credit goes to Horace Andy, one of the few singers who can make a sin like sleaze worth committing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Songs like "Blue Lines," "Five Man Army" and "Daydreaming" keep up the enjoyably livid mood built up by "Safe From Harm" and "One Love": gloomy and crazy, these three tracks wander aimlessly without any proper structure, form, or chorus, with the band members taking turns with the microphone, providing the impression of apparitions whispering mindless words in different forms; isn't trip-hop music of the ghosts and for the dead?

Well, if Blue Lines can be all spooky and intentionally subterranean, it can also be as positive, heavenly and invigorating. "Be Thankful For What You Got," "Unfinished Sympathy," "Lately" and "Hymn Of The Big Wheel" are full of zest and warmth. It is amazing that these numbers are packed on the same album as the distressingly dark "Safe From Harm" and others.

If "Safe From Harm" is one of the grimmest tracks ever created, then "Be Thankful For What You Got" is one of the most upbeat songs ever made. With its down-to-earth vocals and innocently simple words, this song overwhelms with its earthiness.

Also, "Unfinished Sympathy," which is much more sophisticated, creates a blissful atmosphere with Nelson's unassumingly sweet vocals driven by the divine string arrangement accompanying it; and yes, its irresistibly foot-tapping beats are unforgettable.

The closing number "Hymn Of The Big Wheel," is unbelievably naïve and chaste, and shows the brilliance of the sleaze-man Horace Andy, who can change from a wolf in sheep's clothing to a sheep in wolf's clothing.

An album which is simple, spirited, subfusc, sexy and sleazy all at the same time, Blue Lines is an essential addition to any serious collection. Blue Lines is a classic and undoubtedly the mother of all trip-hop albums.

Rating: A

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© 2005 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.