For many people ‘Mezzanine’ is the definitive Massive Attack album. Critics love it. Middle aged ad execs wallow in it. I’m rather fond of it myself. It’s just that, for me, ‘Blue Lines’ is THE Massive Attack album.
Don’t misunderstand me, I like ‘Mezzanine’. How could you fail to like an album that opens with the left-right-left combination of ‘Angel’, ‘Rising Son’ and ‘Teardrop’? ‘Mezzanine’ is an accomplished piece of work. It’s a snapshot of artists in the midst of unfurling their mighty wings and flexing their musical muscles.
Perhaps it’s for that reason that I’ll always love Blue Lines more than Mezzanine. For all of the sure-footedness of ‘Mezzanine’, ‘Blue Lines’ has an irrepressible charm in it’s frailties (not that there are many). I love ‘Blue Lines’ from start to finish and even now, after all these years, it’s still an album that I’ll start again as soon as it finishes.
Where ‘Mezzanine’ is the culmination of a journey, ‘Blue Lines’ is the first bold step.
There’s also an argument to be had for ‘Blue Lines’ being a much happier album. Obviously Massive Attack and ‘happy’ aren’t often thought of occupying the same place in space-time but ‘Mezzanine’ is suffocatingly miserable. I understand that this is intentional and as a conceptual feat it is a success. The thing is, I’m suffocatingly miserable as it is. I don’t need any help for that. ‘Blue lines’, in contrast, has some wonderfully sunny moments. I challenge anybody to listen to ‘Lately’ and not feel summery.
‘Blue Lines’ is also the home of some of Tricky’s best ever verses. In fact some of the best ever verses. Just listen to the (Al Green sampling) ‘Five Man Army’. It’s a dubby, rappy joy. Back in 1991, when it was released, it was incredibly rare to hear (quality) rapping on a record that had money behind it. It was even more rare to hear that rapping to have a British twang. There’s something incredibly endearing to hear Tricky slurring along like a farmer with a blocked nose.
‘Blue Lines’ has a bed of influences that include Reggae, Hip Hop and Soul. ‘Mezzanine’ is far more rock orientated and whilst I do like that the dub/soul tinge of ‘Blue Lines’ is what really makes my heart sing.
At this point I should probably come clean. Blue Lines has an unfair advantage over ‘Mezzanine’ in that my favourite song is from that album. Yep, I cannot get enough of ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. I have been in love with that song since the moment I first heard it on Top of The Pops. I remember it stopping me dead in my tracks like a rabbit in the headlights. Twenty One years later and it still has much the same effect on me. Those strings still give me goosebumps and a lump in my throat and Shara Nelson’s voice is wonderfully haunting.
Ultimately ‘Blue Lines’, in my opinion, falls into the category of ‘perfect album’. There are not many of those and when one comes along you should hold onto it tight. You’re all welcome to ‘Mezzanine’ but it’s going to get ugly if anybody tries to take ‘Blue Lines’ away.