I Was Looking Back To See If You Were Looking Back At Me To See Me Looking Back At You

1991 spoilt us in many ways musically, not least with the release of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, a real melting pot album. Dub’s basslines, reggae’s sound systems, hip hop’s rhythms, punk’s DIY attitude. Unfinished Sympathy gets all the plaudits (quite rightly, it’s an astonishing record) but Safe From Harm is a huge and brilliant song, led by the driving and tautest of basslines (sampled from Billy Cobham’s Stratus) and then overlaid with 3D’s paranoia rap and Shara’s vocals. The long version from the 12″ is has more of everything that’s good about this song.

Safe From Harm (Long Version)

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Ritual Spirit

Massive Attack’s new songs are sounding good. The Swede posted one over at his place recently, a collaboration with Young Fathers and an eye-catching video to boot. And now there’s Ritual Spirit. Deep and unsettling music as per usual but the vocals from Azekel (pictured above) take this elsewhere, somewhere otherworldly. The video has Kate Moss, dancing in the dark with a lightbulb.

You Go Out Every Night As A Single

I got in last night without a clue about what I was going to do for the blog today- nothing at all was coming up, I imagined I’d be sitting drumming my fingers on the keyboard. Out of nowhere this song popped out of my subconscious. Any Love was Massive Attack’s first single, self released in 1988. Co-produced by Smith and Mighty it’s an absolute belter, a rough and ready cover of a Rufus and Chaka Khan song, driven by a hip hop breakbeat and a stunning vocal from singer Carlton. I didn’t hear it until after Blue Lines came out and the first version I heard was on the Hymn Of The Big Wheel e.p. (confusingly titled Massive Attack). The version on there was a remix by Larry Heard and this is the one I always go to  first- slightly smoother with a clubland bass and the vocal pitched down a bit and the tempo up a tad. There’s a great, excuse me, juxtaposition in this remix- lyrics that are critical of a single man going out and pulling because ‘any love will do’ up against the slinky, sexiness of the sound of the song.

Any Love (Larry Heard Mix)

Down That Road

Shara Nelson was the voice of two defining 90s singles (Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and Safe From Harm. You knew that I’m sure). In 1993 she started a solo career, having fallen out with Massive Attack over royalties or writing credits or something similar. Her debut single was this, Down That Road, a Massive Attack-esque piece of decent soul-dance pop wrapped in a Massive Attack-esque sleeve, although it didn’t exactly set the charts alight (number 19). The breakbeat, the sweeping strings, the piano tinkles and the voice all make it a bit nearly-but-not-quite.

Down That Road

There’s A Hole In My Soul Like A Cavity

his time of year always brings me a strong sense of time whooshing by- we are a few days short of the GCSE and A level exam season starting, the end of the football season is imminent and another World Cup about to start, in two and a half weeks it’ll be the May half term holiday, then the long downhill slope to July, the summer holidays. Another school year done, another year older, September and autumn… Then I have to slap myself and stop imagining the time away.

Hymn Of The Big Wheel

This song’s combination of crickets, whale song, sonorous strings, the lazy breakbeat and Horace Andy’s beautiful vocal was the perfect closer to Blue Lines and is a bit of a tearjerker.

Five Man Army

It’s a bit difficult to imagine now the impact Massive Attack had back at the turn of the 90s. Their debut lp, Blue Lines, had people who never normally bought that kind of thing listening to little else. On top of that, here was a British group, doing breakbeats, reggae, soul and rap properly. With Bristol accents. Almost all of that first lp is top stuff- Safe From Harm with it’s massive sampled bassline (from Stratus by Billy Cobham) and paranoia, the gorgeous Hymn Of The Big Wheel, Horace Andy singing Be Thankful For What You’ve Got, the lighter than air Daydreaming (with Tricky)…. and Unfinished Sympathy- contender for greatest British single of the decade ever, I’d have thought. This one ain’t too shabby either-

Five Man Army

I don’t think they’ve ever pulled it off again in such style, although the songs Protection (especially) and Teardrop are as good as anything on Blue Lines. But as a whole the subsequent albums didn’t repeat the trick for me. Protection has good songs but doesn’t feel as whole. Fallings out and shedding members they then became darker and darker, not enough light to balance things up. Angel is superb, a trip-hop Joy Division, but Mezzanine was an oppressive listen. Whereas Blue Lines was a joy from start to finish.

Massive Burial


This looks good- Massive Attack versus Burial on heavyweight 12″ vinyl, Burial re-working 4 Walls and Paradise Circus; crackle, bass, spectral samples, general air of spooky foreboding. It’s out today for pre-order, available from next Monday and limited to 1000 copies so don’t hang about. Get it here or here.