Even if the U.K. hadn't just endured three long hard years of acid house and techno tyranny, the 1991 arrival of Massive Attack's Blue Lines, with its measured bass lines, keyboard swells and lover's-rock reggae dreaminess, would have come as a sweet relief. As it was, the group--a shadowy consortium of DJs, rappers, remixers and multi-media dabblers around whom various players and singers orbited--received the sort of genuflection and forelock-tugging that Brits used to reserve for royalty. Natives of Bristol, a sleepy boho hamlet in the southwest of England, Massive (the suffix was jettisoned for the duration of the Gulf War) blended a troika of formative influences: the throbbing dub reggae played in mobile sound systems, the needs-must ingenuity of early hip hop, and the sense of foreboding prevalent in the best noir soundtracks. Blue Lines provided a platform for the tremulous vocals of reggae vet Horace Andy, and it redeemed years of asthmatic excuses for British rap with the stoned stream-of-conciousness mumbling of Tricky. But the record's great and enduring acclaim can be attributed to one singer and one song. Shara Nelson had perfomed with an earlier incarnation of Massive Attack back in 1986, when they were trading under the moniker the Wild Bunch and she applied uplift to a swampy, shuffling 12-inch retread of Bacharah/David's "The Look of Love." Returning to the fold, her pipes brought paranoia to Blue Lines' opening, "Safe From Harm", and abandon to "Daydreaming." She was also featured on "Unfinished Sympathy," the song that realized all Massive's ambitions. With rattling percussion and gathering stormclouds of strings, the hit merited every fevered adjective hurled in its direction.


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