Is this the first ever trip hop album? My limited research suggests that yes, it absolutely is. There may have been some “Bristol sound” singles that presaged this record but nobody seems to have produced an LP. So, whatever you think of this album, and whatever you think of the term “trip hop,” there’s this historical fact sitting there.
As you know, I’m not really a Massive Attack guy. I generally really, really like Trip Hop, but this group has always seemed to me too far along the spectrum towards either hip hop or electronic dance music (depending upon the song) for me compared to, say, Portishead, or even Tricky solo.
But I am both a big fan of the genre and I am also someone obsessed with history and how things evolve. And whatever I feel about Massive Attack and this record it seems hard to deny its importance given, as some have said Trip Hop in many ways became the UK’s version of alternative rock for much of the ’90s. It was a pretty big deal. (And it spread globally, too, as there are Asian bands you can describe as Trip Hop and even Madonna sort of kinda got into it.)
The album itself feels very much like the blueprint of Massive Attack’s sound going forward: hip-hop inspired production mixing samples and live instruments behind very UK rap (there are few UK rappers of the era who sound like American MCs and vice versa) or soulful female vocals. The argument about whether this is just a British form of hip hop is clearest on the tracks with rap, as you can sort of see the argument despite the clear difference in flow and in production styles. But on the songs with Nelson and Andy singing in particular, it just doesn’t sound like hip hop, it’s something new.
I find that Massive Attack are often much more about feel and vibe – as is the genre they created – than songs. And that is the big thing that’s always kept me from being a massive fan (sorry). And that’s true of the tracks with vocals here, though obviously less true of the tracks with rap.
But not liking this as much as some of the song-oriented trip hop that it inspired is not the same thing as not appreciating its impact. Given how big trip hop was in the ’90s in the UK, how wide its influence both on other ’90s scenes and musicians, and how it very much anticipated the post-genre world we live in the 21st century, I think this has to be one of the most important albums of the 1990s. hands down.