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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > Aug-18 > CLASSIC ALBUM

CLASSIC ALBUM

A DANCE ALBUM YOU COULDN’T DANCE TO, A CLUB CLASSIC FOR WHEN THE CLUBS CLOSED – MASSIVE ATTACK’S BLUE LINES TRULY REDEFINED NOTIONS OF ARTIST, GROUP AND GENRE. CLASSIC POP EXPLORES THE AMORPHOUS 1991 DEBUT FROM THE BRISTOL COLLECTIVE THAT LEFT AN INDELIBLE MARK ON BRITISH MUSIC HISTORY…

BLUE LINES

MASSIVE ATTACK

Massive Attack in a publicity shot around the time of their debut’s release
© Avalon

For music in both the USA and the UK, 1991 was very much a story of how the West won. Stateside, Seattle’s grunge triumvirate of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden saw rock listeners turn their heads towards a new, provincial hotbed of musical creativity. In the UK, it was Bristol, and a new take on ‘dance’ music led by Massive Attack. Seattle and Bristol have many similarities – both Western ports, ‘outsider’ cities caricatured as rainy and dank, both technological cities, despite their ‘bumpkin’ rep – but musically, they were as different as chalk and cheese… or coffee and rum.

Just as grunge’s breakthrough into the mainstream had its roots in Seattle’s Sub Pop label, so Massive Attack’s ‘Bristol sound’ or ‘trip-hop’ (terms they all hate, of course) grew out of a local soundsystem, The Wild Bunch. A sprawling collective of DJs, engineers, rappers and graffiti artists emerging from the streets of Bristol in the 80s, The Wild Bunch were more gang than band, but were the springboard for the careers of Milo Johnson (aka DJ Milo/ Nature Boy), über-producer Nellee Hooper (Soul II Soul, Björk, U2) and, of course, Massive Attack.

Massive Attack’s Daddy G remembered the Bristol street scene that birthed The Wild Bunch as “punks, bikers, dreads, you know, just a whole cacophony of people in this one place. It’s surprising how so many mixtures of people in that one place don’t actually erupt… I think a lot of people were into spliffing, so it kept everyone tranquil.”

Just as Seattle’s slackers eventually rose, so did Bristol’s spliffers. But it took time. Even Blue Lines, apart from one single, wasn’t initially a huge hit, reaching No.13 in the UK. Perhaps because, at the turn of the 90s, no one outside of Wild Bunch circles really understood who or what Massive Attack were. After all, their main spokesman – if the press-shy members had a spokesman at all – was an ex-punk, graffitidaubing, spiky-haired white boy with an Italian name. Perhaps it was his own mix of influences that caused Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja to explain, in an early interview with NME: “We haven’t really got a line-up. We’re not governed by bass, guitar, drums and singer. We’re just a loosely based idea. The difference between now and The Wild Bunch is that we’re not fighting for supremacy all the time, we agree to differ… The whole of the Blue Lines album was about us being coerced into a studio, and then confronted with trying to make a demo. It wasn’t like we sat around on the piano writing songs together.”

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About Classic Pop

In the latest issue of Classic Pop, our cover star is the mighty Rick Astley. We have an exclusive in-depth chat with the singer as he returns with new record Beautiful Life – the pressure's on as he attempts to follow up his hit album 50. Synth-pop icons Heaven 17 look back on their superb LP The Luxury Gap and the legends keep on coming this month as The Human League talk us through their back catalogue, album by album. For ABBA fans, we go behind the scenes with Carl Magnus Palm for the inside track on their career in the recording studio and also serve up a buyer's guide to Sweden's finest. We travel Down Under to speak to Dannii Minogue as she relives her Neon Nights album 15 years on – it's the record that transformed her into a bona fide dancefloor icon. Massive Attack's imperious Blue Lines is our Classic Album this issue and we also meet Jennifer Warnes to talk about her brand new studio LP as well as her Oscar-winning songs that soundtracked the 80s. Our packed reviews section features new albums from All Saints, Gorillaz, The Proclaimers, Rick Astley and Gabrielle and many more while the reissues take in a superb Soft Cell boxset, Depeche Mode 12" singles, Morrissey and Jean-Michel Jarre. On the gig front, we're bowled over by an astonishing David Byrne live show, travel to the Isle of Wight Festival to see Depeche Mode and check out two legends, George Benson and Quincy Jones. Enjoy the issue! Steve Harnell Editor Classic Pop