Mas­ter­ful lines of at­tack

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSICREVIEWS -


Blue Lines EMI ★★★★★ Pieced to­gether from the orig­i­nal mas­ter tapes, this re­mas­tered af­fair to mark the (you must be jok­ing) 21st an­niver­sary of the orig­i­nal re­lease may not have the same “shock of the new” about it, but it re­mains – glo­ri­ously so – one of the best mod­ern mu­sic al­bums ever made. It’s been called “spliff-hop”, “trip-hop” and “elec­tronic soul”, but for­get all the the­saurus-search­ing: press play on Safe from Harm and swoon once more to the bril­liance of these nine tracks.

With roots in the Sound Sys­tem scene, the trio be­hind Mas­sive At­tack (Robert Del Naja and Grant Mar­shall, right, and An­drew Vowles) re­fined their early Wild Bunch sound (check out the cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s The

Look of Love for clues to where they were go­ing) and ba­si­cally cre­ated their own sub-genre, in which soul mu­sic was fil­tered through dub and reg­gae, with slo-mo beats un­der­pin­ning the rhythm.

The real skill here, though, lies in how Del Naja, Mar­shall and Vowles blended in the vo­cal lines. Shara Nel­son and Ho­race Andy – who have stand­out ap­pear­ances on Un­fin­ished

Sym­pa­thy and Hymn of the Big Wheel, re­spec­tively – have an in­tu­itive grasp of what is go­ing on around them. There’s even a cameo ap­pear­ance by Tricky.

Ev­ery­thing here works, from the hyp­notic One Love to the al­ways over­looked Be Thank­ful

for What You Got. And while you can get lost in genre-spot­ting and sam­ple-trac­ing, the sweet un­du­la­tions of the sound al­ways win out.

With so much dis­tance now from its orig­i­nal re­lease, you can di­vorce this work from its huge influence at the time. Yes, it did mainly shape the DNA of a lot of mod­ern British mu­sic – and also showed up the wretched cre­ative paucity of the emerg­ing Britpop move­ment. And it did fore­shadow Tricky’s

Max­in­quaye (the only other British al­bum of the 1990s that can touch Blue Lines) and Por­tishead’s Dummy. Its cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance aside,

Blue Lines re­mains a work of stag­ger­ing am­bi­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. Press play. mas­siveat­


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