Back to the '90s: Massive Attack pioneers 'trip-hop' with 1991 album 'Blue Lines'

Massive Attack is often credited with inventing trip-hop with their 1991 album “Blue Lines.” Argue, if you want, but no one can dispute that without Massive Attack there would be no Tricky, Portishead or Morcheeba, but trip-hop as a genre identifier leaves a lot to be desired. To be fair, the term was coined by Mixmag’s Andy Pemberton to describe DJ Shadow’s 1993 single In/Flux, and was only later applied to “Blue Lines,” but the label has stuck for better or worse.

A cursory listen to tracks like “Five Man Army” makes it clear that hip-hop is part of the formula, but it’s not the only ingredient. Elements of reggae, soul, dub and techno are just as present in the mix as well. The hip-hop that is there isn’t particularly trippy either, at least not in the psychedelic sense. It is laid-back, groovy and distinctively British, but it doesn’t recall the ’60s so much as the mellow ’70s. It’s music for the bachelor pad, not for the commune.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the trip-hop label is its evocation of the past, when the music itself felt more like the future. It had something in common with other classics of 1991 — Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” come to mind — in that it sounded like nothing that came before and everything that came after.

— Nicholas Coleman

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