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by Philip Sherburne

November 20, 2012

Source Material: Massive Attack, Blue Lines

by Philip Sherburne  |  November 20, 2012

Massive Attack's 1991 album Blue Lines marked the birth of a new kind of cool. Drawing from Bristol's sound-system culture, the group's members -- Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Robert "3D" Del Naja -- brought together elements of dub, '60s soul, hip-hop and acid house to create the languid, moody sound that would eventually come to be known as trip-hop. Bristol was a cauldron of musical multiculturalism in the years leading up to the record's debut. Vowles and Marshall had been a part of the Wild Bunch, a crew of DJs and musicians that encompassed reggae, hip-hop and post-punk disco; another Wild Bunch cohort (and early Massive Attack member), Nellee Hooper, helped set the stage for Blue Lines' home-grown style with his Soul II Soul project, which offered a slightly clubbier take on black British music.

Tricky got his start here, as a rapper and co-writer on several of the album's tracks; his husky drawl balanced the smoother, sultrier aspects of Massive Attack's sound, adding an essential element of dread and underlining the trippier elements of "trip-hop." At the other end of the spectrum, the presence of singer Shara Nelson on songs like "Safe from Harm" highlighted the music's roots in classic soul, while cameos from the reggae great Horace Andy paid homage to Jamaica.

But as much as Blue Lines looks, in retrospect, like a point of origin, part of its novelty was the way that it pulled from so many sources, and so seamlessly. Much of that approach Massive Attack learned from hip-hop, of course -- a link they make explicit in the vinyl scratching of songs like "One Love." Both Grace Jones and Big Audio Dynamite loom as influences on the group's knack for bridging racially coded boundaries in their music. And a list of the artists that M.A. sampled suggests the breadth of their vision: Blue Lines folded into its crazy quilt elements of songs by Al Green, Isaac Hayes, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Sade, Billy Cobham, The Blackbyrds and even, apparently, The Beatles. (The trio got lucky, having gotten their start before copyright law clamped down with such draconian severity.)

On the occasion of a 2012 reissue of Blue Lines, remastered from the original tapes, we trace the roots of the album's sound through key influences, like The KLF and Eric B and Rakim, as well as some of the records Massive Attack sampled. As for that Hal David/Burt Bacharach record? The Wild Bunch and Shara Nelson paid tribute to the iconic songwriting duo with a 1985 version of "The Look of Love" -- the same song Isaac Hayes covered on To Be Continued…, from which Massive Attack sampled a portion of "Ike's Mood I" for "One Love."

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