Massive Attack – Collected

With a new Massive Attack album on the horizon and their compilation Collected celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, now seems an ideal time to look back at the first phase in the career of Bristol’s most legendary group.

Now with a history of nearly thirty years behind them, they had already been releasing albums for fifteen years by the time this compilation appeared, making it a solid and comprehensive collection of their singles from 1991 to 2006. It’s also very difficult to fault.

It opens with the exceptional Safe from Harm, their third or fourth single back in 1991, featuring a magnificent vocal from Shara Nelson. Although less successful in most markets than Unfinished Sympathy, it provided the group with their only US Dance hit, and is an entirely appropriate way to open this compilation.

The baton is passed smoothly to the brilliantly dark Karmacoma, this time with Tricky on vocals, the third single from the Protection album in 1995. There are those who would fault a non-linear compilation album, but if it’s compiled well, a clear narrative and listening experience can flow, and that’s definitely true here, as we move on to 1998’s deeply moving Angel, from their most successful album Mezzanine, with long-time collaborator Horace Andy.

Although it’s from the same album, this is a perfect counterpart to Teardrop, with Elizabeth Fraser‘s moving vocal. Always an exceptional vocalist, she is in her element here, delivering a curious but tactile lyric against the trippy electronic backing. Then comes Inertia Creeps, the final single from the same album, before Tracey Thorn turns up for one of her finest hours, the title track from 1994’s Protection, in its full seven minute glory.

This mixes across to our first taste of 2003’s 100th Window, the non-chart release Butterfly Caught. This was Massive Attack‘s darkest album to date, and this single is hardly joyful, but it has a grimy beauty which definitely allows it to earn its place here.

Definitely overdue by this stage is the iconic Unfinished Sympathy, and the only slight disappointment here is that they elected to include the album version – exceptional, but it’s already been on an album, whereas Nellee Hooper‘s single version is every bit as good, if not better, and has not. But it’s difficult to complain when the music is this good – their breakthrough hit from 1991, it definitely deserved considerably more attention than it ever got.

All that remains now is to pick up the leftovers – some of them substantial hits when they originally appeared, but mostly now better remembered as album tracks. Risingson is another gloriously dark piece, and then What Your Soul Sings with Sinéad O’Connor as the guest vocalist, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t actually a single, but fits rather nicely here nonetheless, followed by Future Proof and Five Man Army, which definitely weren’t singles.

Compilations rarely include particularly memorable packaging, and so this one is unusual – the double disc package is presented in a nice softback book, and the second disc, a collection of b-sides and rarities including the brilliant single False Flags, also turns out to be a DualDisc – flip it over, and you also get a DVD of all the videos.

There may be some surprising inclusions towards the end, and one particularly notable choice of version which you can question, but there’s nothing particular missing from here. Sinéad O’Connor‘s other guest vocal on Special Cases, which was also actually the only hit single from 100th Window is the only notable omission. Perhaps early singles Any Love or Daydreaming should have been on here, and personally I’d have loved to hear early EP track Home of the Whale again, but these are really very minor quibbles.

The last two tracks are Sly, which you had probably never noticed was in fact the first single from 1994’s Protection album, and then the exceptional Live with Me, with Terry Callier giving the group the best vocal performance of their entire career. If you’re ever unsure of how to close your compilation album, you should start taking notes from Massive Attack.

A triple disc version of Collected, with all the same material described above, is still available here.

Advertisements

Saint Etienne – Tiger Bay

This week sees the twentieth anniversary of the release of Saint Etienne‘s third full album Tiger Bay. After the experimental electronic pop of Foxbase Alpha (1990) and So Tough (1992) and before the all-out sixties-flavoured pop of Good Humor (1998), it occupies an odd place in their discography. It includes three enormous hit singles, in the shape of Hug My Soul, Like a Motorway, and Pale Movie, and yet it was released a year and a bit too early to include the vastly more memorable He’s on the Phone, and also skipped the brilliantly festive I Was Born on Christmas Day.

The album opens, curiously, with the instrumental Urban Clearway, which is a great, uplifting track, but still a slightly strange track to open an album. It is followed by the acoustic, folk-tinged Former Lover, which – perhaps a little late – introduces the vocals of Sarah Cracknell to this release. At this stage she was still really only a guest vocalist who happened to be on all the singles, so she doesn’t turn up all that often on this album as a whole. But despite her appearance, this track isn’t Saint Etienne at their best, sadly.

Hug My Soul, however, is. It seems strange in a way that they would wait until the third track to unleash this one. The third single from the album, it was only a relatively minor hit, but is about as perfect a pop song as anyone ever could hope to record.

It is followed by the brilliantly dark Like a Motorway, in its full – nearly six minute – glory. Three albums on they may have been, but it’s probably fair to say that Saint Etienne were still finding their “sound” at this time, and this track is a wonderful deviation from anything they have done before or after, with its dim and slightly dirty synth bass backing. This may be pop, but it’s not quite pop as you ever knew it before.

Closing side A is the largely instrumental On the Shore, which features a surprise guest wail or two from Shara Nelson, and a fun slightly acid bass sound, alongside a very laid back instrumental flute-led track. It’s a very odd departure from their normal sound, but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless.

Marble Lions is closer to the traditional sound of Saint Etienne, with evocative lyrics about London and a catchy pop chorus. The production – largely just a vocal with a flanged guitar or two – makes for a slightly strange track when it’s listened to out of context, but the ingredients are all there.

Then comes the last of the singles, the exceptional Pale Movie. It’s uplifting, slightly Spanish in style, and entirely brilliant. It also deserved much greater acclaim than the number 28 peak which it scraped to on the charts. It is followed by a lovely instrumental in the form of Cool Kids of Death.

On the original release, Tankerville and Western Wind were confusingly presented as three different tracks, whereas the new reissue combines them all into one seven minute piece, which seems rather more logical. At each end, the traditional folk song Western Wind is a lovely piece, with the soaring strings and experimental electronics of the middle Tankerville section in between. Perhaps an odd combination, but a good one.

Finally, The Boy Scouts of America closes the album, again with some adventurous production which somehow doesn’t quite work. Cracknell’s vocal is accompanied by a warping electronic backing, and then strings and other instruments turn up for a crescendo between each verse. It’s an odd song, and a particularly strange choice of closing track, but it’s still fun.

Despite being released in the midst of a slew of exceptional singles, Tiger Bay still feels very much like a band trying to find its sound. Saint Etienne‘s experimental side is good, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like what they’re supposed to be doing. They also seem to have got the tracks in the wrong order, as the various international releases with entirely different tracks seemed to illustrate. But after four years of side projects, their comeback with Good Humor would entirely redress the balance.

The special edition reissue of Tiger Bay is still available second hand or as a download.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines (2012 Mix / Master)

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.

The BRIT Awards 1996

Ah yes, the year in which Jarvis Cocker found Michael Jackson‘s pretentious performance of Earth Song a little over the top. Chris Evans was the host at Earls Court in London, on 19th February 1996.

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 1995 ceremony here, and the 1997 ceremony in a couple of days’ time.

Best British Album

Presented by Lenny Kravitz. Nominees:

  • Blur – The Great Escape
  • Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
  • Pulp – Different Class
  • Radiohead – The Bends
  • Paul Weller – Stanley Road

Winner: Oasis

Best British Dance Act

Presented by Vic ReevesBob Mortimer and Ulrika Jonsson. Nominees:

  • Eternal
  • Leftfield
  • M People
  • Massive Attack
  • Tricky

Winner: Massive Attack

Best British Female

Presented by Tina Turner. Nominees:

  • Joan Armatrading
  • PJ Harvey
  • Annie Lennox
  • Shara Nelson
  • Vanessa-Mae

Winner: Annie Lennox

Best British Group

Presented by Pete Townshend from The Who. Nominees:

  • Blur
  • Lightning Seeds
  • Oasis
  • Pulp
  • Radiohead

Winner: Oasis

Best British Male

Presented by Iggy Pop. Nominees:

  • Edwyn Collins
  • Van Morrison
  • Jimmy Nail
  • Tricky
  • Paul Weller

Winner: Paul Weller

Best British Newcomer

Presented by Robbie Williams. Nominees:

  • Black Grape
  • Cast
  • Elastica
  • Supergrass
  • Tricky

Winner: Supergrass

Best British Producer

Nominees:

  • Brian Eno
  • Nellee Hooper
  • John Leckie
  • Owen Morris and Noel Gallagher
  • Stephen Street

Winner: Brian Eno

Best British Single

Presented by Jo Whiley. Nominees:

  • Blur – Country House
  • Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You
  • Everything But the Girl – Missing
  • Annie Lennox – No More I Love You’s
  • Oasis – Roll with It
  • Oasis – Wonderwall
  • Pulp – Disco 2000
  • Simply Red – Fairground
  • Supergrass – Alright
  • Take That – Back for Good

Winner: Take That

Best British Video

Presented by Michael Hutchence from INXS. Nominees:

  • Blur – Country House
  • Blur – The Universal
  • Massive Attack – Protection
  • Oasis – Wonderwall
  • Pulp – Common People
  • Radiohead – Just
  • Rolling Stones – Like a Rolling Stone
  • Simply Red – Fairground
  • Supergrass – Alright
  • Take That – Back for Good

Winner: Oasis

Best International Female

Presented by Kylie Minogue. Nominees:

  • Björk
  • Mariah Carey
  • Celine Dion
  • kd lang
  • Alanis Morissette

Winner: Björk

Best International Group

Presented by Celine Dion. Nominees:

  • Bon Jovi
  • Foo Fighters
  • Garbage
  • Green Day
  • TLC

Winner: Bon Jovi

Best International Male

Nominees:

  • The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
  • Coolio
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Meat Loaf
  • Neil Young

Winner: Prince

Best International Newcomer

Presented by Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey. Nominees:

  • Tina Arena
  • Boyzone
  • Foo Fighters
  • Garbage
  • Alanis Morissette

Winner: Alanis Morissette

Best Soundtrack / Cast Recording

Nominees:

  • James Horner / London Symphony Orchestra – Braveheart
  • Various Artists – Batman Forever
  • Various Artists – Muriel’s Wedding
  • Various Artists – Natural Born Killers
  • Various Artists – Waiting to Exhale

Winner: Braveheart

Artist of a Generation

Meaningless special award presented by Bob Geldof.

Winner: Michael Jackson

The Freddie Mercury Award

Presented by Roger Taylor from Queen.

Winner: The Help album for the charity War Child. Collected by Brian Eno and Thom Yorke from Radiohead.

Outstanding Contribution

Presented by, you know, Tony Blair from off of the Conservative Labour Party.

Winner: David Bowie

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing

Edit: this piece originally omitted Annie Lennox’s nomination for Best British Single. Incidentally, my notes from 1996 also list Cast as nominated for Best British Video (for Alright) instead of Supergrass, but I suspect this is an error.

Mercury Music Prize 1992-1994

The Mercury Music Prize launched in 1992, and has always stuck to its guns – in September, a list of the finest albums of the year will be nominated, and then in October a winner is announced. Simple as that. Despite some speculation in recent years that it may have lost its way somewhat, it’s still a good guide to what might be going on in the world of “real” music. Here’s a guide to what happened over its first three years…

Mercury Music Prize 1992

According to The Guardian, the award was devised by Jon Webster, the Managing Director at Virgin Records, who hoped it might become “the Booker Prize of the music industry”, independent of the music industry but with its endorsement. The panel is led by Professor Simon Frith, and chosen by the event’s organiser David Wilkinson.

The prize name, by the way, is purely from the event’s sponsor, the now largely defunct telecoms company Mercury. The first awards took place at The Savoy Hotel, 8th September 1992.

Nominees:

  • Barry Adamson – Soul Murder
  • Jah Wobble – Rising Above Bedlam
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – Honey’s Dead
  • Bheki Mseleku – Celebration
  • Primal Scream – Screamadelica
  • Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha
  • Simply Red – Stars
  • John Tavener and Steven Isserlis – The Protecting Veil
  • U2 – Achtung Baby
  • Young Disciples – Road to Freedom

Winner: Primal Scream

Mercury Music Prize 1993

Nominees:

  • Apache Indian – No Reservations
  • The Auteurs – New Wave
  • Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
  • Dina Carroll – So Close
  • PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
  • New Order – Republic
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
  • Suede – Suede
  • Stan Tracey – Portraits Plus

Winner: Suede

Mercury Music Prize 1994

The 1994 awards were controversial, as nobody actually seemed to like the winners very much. The Independent even suggested that they might have won due to positive discrimination. Took place on 13th September 1994.

Nominees:

  • Blur – Parklife
  • M People – Elegant Slumming
  • Ian McNabb – Head Like a Rock
  • Shara Nelson – What Silence Knows
  • Michael Nyman – The Piano Concerto / MGV
  • The Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation
  • Pulp – His ‘n’ Hers
  • Take That – Everything Changes
  • Therapy? – Troublegum
  • Paul Weller – Wild Wood

Winner: M People, although Paul Weller thought he should have won

Further information

The BRIT Awards 1994

The fourteenth BRIT Awards, on the fourteenth of February 1994, were something of a turning point for the BRITs. After corporate suits, total unmitigated chaos, and The 1980s, they had been through a number of incarnations, but somehow in 1994 the BRITs came of age. Since then, it has been essential annual viewing (or avoiding) for any fan of music.

In 1994, they were presented by Elton John and RuPaul, and took place at Alexandra Palace, in London.

Best British Newcomer

Presented by Tori Amos. Nominees:

  • Apache Indian
  • Gabrielle
  • Jamiroquai
  • Shara Nelson
  • Suede

Winner: Gabrielle.

Best International Newcomer

Presented by Kylie Minogue. Nominees:

  • 4 Non Blondes
  • Björk
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Spin Doctors
  • SWV

Winner: Björk.

Best British Dance Act

Presented by Seal. Nominees:

  • Apache Indian
  • Jamiroquai
  • M People
  • Stereo MCs
  • The Shamen

Winner: M People.

Best Soundtrack/Cast Recording

Presented by Rozalla. Nominees:

  • Reservoir Dogs (various artists)
  • Sleepless in Seattle (various artists)
  • The Bodyguard (Whitney Houston / various artists)
  • The Jungle Book (various artists)
  • Whats Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner)

Winner: The Bodyguard, accepted by Whitney Houston.

Best International Female Solo Artist

Presented by ze Jean-Paul Gauthier. Ze nominees:

  • Björk
  • Janet Jackson
  • Mariah Carey
  • Nanci Griffith
  • Tina Turner

Longeur vidéo ere.

Winner: Björk.

Best International Group

Presented by Kiki Dee. Nominees:

  • Crowded House
  • Nirvana
  • Pearl Jam
  • Spin Doctors
  • U2

Winner: Crowded House.

Best Selling Single and Album of 1993

Video here. Look at the size of his mouth!

Winner: Meat Loaf.

Best British Producer

Nominees:

  • Brian Eno
  • Flood
  • M People
  • Nellee Hooper
  • Youth

Winner: Brian Eno.

Best Music Video

Voted for by viewers of MTV Europe, and presented by Pip Dann. Nominees:

  • Gabrielle – Dreams
  • Jamiroquai – Too Young To Die
  • New Order – Regret
  • Peter Gabriel – Steam
  • Suede – Animal Nitrate

Shortlist:

  • Take That – Pray
  • Pet Shop Boys – Go West
  • Depeche Mode – I Feel You
  • David Bowie – Jump They Say
  • Sting – Fields of Gold

Winner: Take That.

Best International Male Solo Artist

Presented by Vivienne Westwood. Nominees:

  • Billy Joel
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Meat Loaf
  • Neil Young
  • Terence Trent D’Arby

Winner: Lenny Kravitz.

Best British Single

Voted for by listeners of BBC Radio 1, and presented by Steve Wright. Nominees:

  • Apache Indian – Boom Shak-A-Lak
  • Dina Carroll – Don’t Be a Stranger
  • Gabrielle – Dreams
  • M People – Moving On Up
  • New Order – Regret
  • Paul Weller – Wild Wood
  • Radiohead – Creep
  • Shaggy – Oh Carolina
  • Suede – Animal Nitrate
  • Take That – Pray

Winner: Take That.

Best British Album

Presented by Jack Dee. Nominees:

  • Dina Carroll – So Close
  • Jamiroquai – Emergency on Planet Earth
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Sting – Ten Summoners Tales
  • Suede – Suede

Winner: Stereo MCs.

Best British Female Solo Artist

Presented by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. Nominees:

  • Beverley Craven
  • Dina Carroll
  • Gabrielle
  • PJ Harvey
  • Shara Nelson

Winner: Dina Carroll.

Best British Male Solo Artist

Presented by Neneh Cherry. Nominees:

  • Apache Indian
  • Paul Weller
  • Rod Stewart
  • Sting
  • Van Morrison

Winner: Sting.

Best British Group

Presented by Paula Yates. Nominees:

  • Jamiroquai
  • M People
  • Stereo MCs
  • Suede
  • Take That

Winner: Stereo MCs.

Outstanding Contribution

Presented by John McCarthy and Jill Morrell.

Winner: Van Morrison.

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing

Edit: removed numerous videos that are no longer available (13 August 2017).