Whilst I was completing the mammoth task of NaNoWriMo back in November I began to get into certain habits about what sort of music was best to write to. With the exception of Fiona Apple all of the artists that appeared to spur me on had one thing in common: electronica. Albums like Fever Ray by Fever Ray, Shaking The Habitual by The Knife, Feel It Break by Austra and Grimes’ last two albums (Visions and Halfaxa). Another album that was helpful was Blue Lines by Massive Attack aka the birth of trip-hop.
Whether or not you have listened to Blue Lines all the way through you will know the album’s highlight: ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. It is quite difficult to pin down what makes this song so near perfect. Being not even a toddler when it was released I have no real idea of the impact song made back in 1991, but through listening to music that was around then it is hard to find anything that was quite like it. It is a song that was an utter game changer.
What makes the album work throughout is that this is hip-hop music that has been filtered through the world of electronica which gives most of the songs a feeling of darkness, something really felt in the opening track ‘Safe From Harm’. It’s one of those albums that shows what can happen when a different group interpret a movement, as this is a very British take on American rap and hip-hop (see: ‘Five Man Army’).
As the album that effectively launched/mainstreamed a genre it was always going to be a difficult act to follow, which probably goes a long way to explain that in the 24 years since they have only released four albums, with only one (Mezzanine) coming close to capturing the magic from Blue Lines. It is said that a new album is due out soon, one that will hopefully erase the memory of Heligoland.
Unlike some albums that I have already looked at for this list (e.g. Dare!) this is an album that is still imitated and emulated to this day. You can hear things that it pioneered in pretty much every electronica and RnB act as well as a lot of pop. It makes me wonder, what other genres will be mashed next to produce a new wave of music.