It’s hard to imagine it’s been 21 years since the release of Massive Attack’s seminal debut album, Blue Lines. The way that this one record has shaped the way I interpret music cannot be stated enough, and my appreciation for this timeless LP continues to grow over time.
I was nine when the Bristol-based collective released the album, but needless to say, living with my parents in Toronto, listening to their UB40 and Peter Gabriel tapes, Massive Attack’s debut didn’t even appear on my radar. But as I matured, and my musical tastes diversified, I began to see the influence this record had on the music I would listen to. And now, at the tender age of 30, I cannot imagine my life without it.
With Blue Lines, Massive Attack’s key members—Robert “3D” Del Naja, Grant “Daddy G” Marshall, and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles—set the template for what would be coined “trip-hop,” and ultimately defined the Bristol sound. As the lineup constantly fluctuated, they were at times joined by Tricky, Horace Andy, and Terry Callier, to name but a few stellar collaborators.
But it was the style of cut-and-paste production which really made this record stand out. Listening closely, you can hear the likes of Sade and Isaac Hayes sampled, cut up, and rearranged with additional musical accompaniment, bringing classic records into a more contemporary, unique, urban context. Now, with Blue Lines being reissued today, we couldn’t imagine a better time to root back through the band’s incredible debut and present to you our five favorite videos from that album.
The group’s defining hit, “Unfinished Sympathy,” featured sweeping strings and broken beats, accompanied by the timeless vocals of Shara Nelson, and led the act to critical acclaim, going Top 20 in the UK singles chart.
“Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” is a cover of William DeVaughn’s original from the ’70s. It was one of many reinterpretations of the track, and it spawned a classic remix by Paul Oakenfold.
“Daydreaming” sampled Wally Badarou’s “Mambo” and features Tricky and Shara Nelson, all while paying homage to the Bristol group Smith & Mighty.
Blue Lines‘ opening track, “Safe From Harm,” combines the vocal talent of Nelson and 3D (although Nelson departed the group later on, and does not feature in this live video). The bassline is sampled from Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” and is laid over a Funkadelic drumline.
Massive Attack’s music accompanied a wide variety of films and television shows over the years. Blue Lines closer “Hymn of the Big Wheel” was an ode to peace, and was famously used in the 1996 Robert DeNiro movie The Fan.