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.