How is it possible that Blue Lines could be 21 years old already? Well, it isn’t – it’s 23 now – but even so. One of the most important albums of the 1990s, and it’s already old enough to do all the things that adults get to do.
To celebrate its coming of age, a reissue was produced – a new remastered and remixed version which perhaps isn’t entirely necessary – I don’t remember there being anything particularly wrong with the original recording. It does sound amazing, admittedly, but it’s difficult to remember the previous version sounding bad.
The packaging this time around feels like a bit of a letdown. There’s a nice card slipcase, which makes opening the package up quite exciting, but there’s no booklet whatsoever, and the credits have been inexplicably hidden behind the black CD housing so that you can’t actually read them. I suppose it’s nicely minimal though.
The track listing is exactly the same as it ever was – and what is there to say? From the opening lines of single Safe from Harm it’s dark, and thick with dreamy atmosphere and its incredible vocals from Shara Nelson, through to the lovely One Love, the first of many collaborations with Horace Andy.
Looking back, it’s quite incredible that Massive Attack should have put out such a perfect debut. By the time the album was unleashed, they just had a handful of singles to their name, and no real indications of what they might be capable of. Now of course, with Protection and Mezzanine behind them, we know they find it difficult not to be amazing, but then it must have come as a bit of a shock.
Blue Lines is the title track, and is perhaps actually the weakest track on the album, which isn’t saying a huge amount – it’s still quite exceptional. Then the exceptional Be Thankful for What You’ve Got, with vocals from Tony Bryan.
What the first album brings you is a whole lot of Tricky, such as on Five Man Army, which makes for a rather special experience – when you think of just how many legends you’re listening to simultaneously, it’s really a rather humbling experience.
Then Unfinished Sympathy kicks off. Maybe you’ve listened to it a few too many times, or maybe you don’t like the fact that it was such a huge hit single. But if you’re able to remain open minded, this is one of the finest songs ever recorded – Shara Nelson‘s brilliant vocal alongside the beautiful string samples and slightly trippy drum sounds. On this version of the album it positively shimmers.
Later tracks Daydreaming and Lately are similarly perfect – it would be impossible to be critical of more than one or two tracks on here. And finally, before you know it, you’re onto the album closer Hymn of the Big Wheel. Like all the best albums, Blue Lines is concise – it doesn’t mess around – there are just nine tracks, but every one of them comes together to build something quite perfect.
Ultimately, this updated mix and master of Blue Lines may be unnecessary – I honestly can’t ever remember having thought the original needed cleaning up – but it does sound amazing, and if nothing else it’s a worthwhile reminder that this is an album which deserves to be picked up every few months.
It’s a shame there wasn’t room somewhere to fit on Nellee Hooper‘s moving single version of Unfinished Sympathy or the beautiful b-side Home of the Whale – although neither should have ever been on the album, they would have graced a bonus disc rather nicely. But that’s just a minor niggle.
You can find the 2012 mix / master of Blue Lines through all major retailers.