100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s #14 Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

Released : 1991

There is an argument that Unfinished Sympathy is too aesthetically perfect for it to be about something as flawed and seedy as love. If also there’s also an unwritten law that the impact of art is diminished over time, then miraculously, it’s a song about one that isn’t subject to the gravity of the other: the passing of thirty years hasn’t even begun to tarnish either reputation or an ability to take the breath away.

Massive were forced to temporarily ditch their Attack at the time of it’s release due to the proximity of the (first) Gulf War, but they were still the crew who’d emerged from mid-eighties urban Bristol as The Wild Bunch. Faces had come and gone since then but as the new decade began founding members 3D, Mushroom and Daddy G along with producer Jonny Dollar were working with vocalist Shara Nelson on the formulation of what would ultimately become Blue Lines.

In the established tradition of classic writing Nelson accidentally improvised the melody. But as a foretaste of the collective’s interpersonal conflicts, none of the trio were ever in the studio together and the track’s evocative minimalism felt like a deliberate challenge to each other. That space left around Nelson’s exquisitely soaring melodies was filled with a fifty piece string ensemble recorded at Abbey Road and in an instant a neo-soul masterpiece was born. Did love deserve it? No, but humans did.

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