We all were witnesses to the birth of trip-hop when Blue Lines was born in 1991. Back then, besides Public Enemy, I wasn’t much of a fan of the new style of inner city rap because as Morrissey once sang, “it said nothing to me about my life.” But there was something about Blue Lines that sent ripples around the music world. Massive Attack created a genre. Without Blue Lines there wouldn’t have been Portishead or Tricky, and I would argue that U2’s Achtung Baby, released later on that year, would have sounded different without the massive influence of this band from Bristol, England.
Blue Lines blends the magic of soul, funk, rap, rock and reggae all into one beautiful sound that, at the time, was revolutionary. Before Achtung Baby, Massive Attack was the first commercial band to reveal a major influence by Gulf War I. Blue Lines was a direct response to world on the brink of world war. The uncertainty of our future reflected on the sound of Blue Lines.
“Gunmen and maniacs
all will feature on the freak show
and I can’t do nothing about that, no
But if you hurt what’s mine
I’ll sure as hell retaliate”
I remember that time, watching the bombings on TV. I myself had a fear that I would be drafted for a war that I didn’t believe in. Sound familiar? Massive Attack took that fear and turned it into “Safe from Harm,” “Five Man Army” and “The Hymn of the Big Wheel.”
But I loved Blue Lines for Massive Attack’s take on the politics of Love. And no song blends the sound of hurt and longing than “Unfinished Sympathy.” This is a 21st century soul song with elements of dance, strings and that voice by Shara Nelson. She perfectly voiced the sound of ache that we all feel when love is on the edge of breaking down and falling out of our control.
Blue Lines also brought us two voices, polar opposites that I will always be thankful for, the vintage reggae vox of Horace Andy and the sinister rapping vocals of my main man Tricky. I connected with the title track, which sounds like a sleek, jazz-like rap number where trip-hop found its groove. My favorite line has to be Tricky’s when he sings, “…Adrian mostly gets lonely/ how we live in this existence, just being/ English upbringing, background Caribbean.” Those lyrics reflected how I felt during that year, alone with far of the future and the unknown and I connected with my namesake, Adrian “Tricky” Thawes.
Andy’s voice is the anti-thesis of Tricky’s. Horace’s vocal of “One Love” is more of hope. This dichotomy makes Blue Lines a classic. It’s not just a meditation on the end of the world, there’s optimism with shades of despair sprinkled throughout this brilliant debut. Can you imagine our world now if Blue Lines never was released? There would have been no Maxinqaye or Dummy? And from there, so many other bands would never have been inspired to create music. Think of Massive Attack as The Velvet Underground of their day. Those who connected with this album started bands and made music that helped shape our and future generations.
Similar Albums/ Albums Influenced:
Tricky – Maxinquaye
Portishead – Dummy
Soul II Soul – Keep on Movin’