Tag Archives: Massive Attack

A Massive masterpiece without the Attack


It doesn’t really get any better, does it? “Unfinished Sympathy” has that undefinable something that makes it a masterpiece. With this song Massive Attack wrote themselves into music history, and showed, with Shara Nelson on the lead vocals, that electronic music does have soul.

“Unfinished Sympathy” was the second single from Massive Attack’s 1991 debut album “Blue Lines”. The album is widely considered to be the beginning of trip-hop as a musical genre, though at the time of release this style was simply defined as the “Bristol sound”.

When the single was put out in February 1991, the band name appeared as just “Massive”. This was a deliberate decision taken by the record company and more or less forced upon Massive Attack due to the outbreak of the Gulf War. Virgin Records¬† were afraid that the term “Massive Attack” was too sensitive at the time, and that it would not get enough radio airplay unless they took away the “Attack”.¬† “Unfinished Sympathy” is the only Massive Attack single to not actually bear the name Massive Attack.

“Unfinished Sympathy” uses samples from Flowers of the sea by Era and Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Planetary Citizen, but none of these were ever credited, which led to a dispute with Mahavishnu Orchestra’s John McLaughlin whose vocals (the “heh heh heh”) were actually sampled directly.

The video was filmed in one continuous shot on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, and features Shara Nelson walking along the sidewalk without taking any notice of the drunks, gangmembers and bikers around her. It was one of the first music videos to be recorded in an unbroken camera shot, and later became the main inspiration for The Verve’s video for “Bitter Sweet Symphony“.

“Unfinished Sympathy” is a play on words of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, which is more commonly known as the “Unfinished Symphony” because Schubert died before it was completed. Most probably it was the string section which Massive Attack added to the song that initially triggered the Schubert association.

In 1996, “Unfinished Sympathy” was covered by Tina Turner on her ninth solo album “Wildest Dreams”.

Loads of more great Massive Attack stuff can be found on www.massiveattack.ie.