Massive Attack are one of the most uncompromising groups of all-time. The Bristolian trip-hop pioneers have always stayed true to their moral compass over the course of their career and take pride in the values of what they believe in. Still, they were cornered into making an important decision on one occasion in order to receive airplay from the BBC.
In 1991, the group shared their seminal debut album, Blue Lines, and they immediately made an impact as people devoured a band who had something to say and not just in their music. From the moment they released their official first single, ‘Daydreaming‘, the band grabbed attention from flocks of fans who instantly became enthralled by the new sounds that Massive Attack had offered up. However, when they shared the follow-up single, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, they were deemed no longer suitable to play on the airwaves and unlike most bans dished out by the BBC their ban had nothing to do with the lyrical content of the song.
The world was in a tumultuous state in 1991, and the Gulf War was leading to countless lives being devastated daily. The BBC deemed it inappropriate to play a band called Massive Attack while the war was tearing lives apart. The corporation went as far as labelling their name as being, “unpatriotic”, which disregards the fact that the Bristolians had been conjuring up art together under this name years before the Gulf War began.
As Massive Attack had only just signed a record deal with Virgin and were yet to be an established band, therefore, they couldn’t live without airplay. They had no choice but to listen to their management team and remove the word ‘attack’ from their name. The band reluctantly accepted and for a few months from early to mid-1991, they went under the name of ‘Massive’ but returned to the Massive Attack moniker when they released their debut album which came after the end of the Gulf War.
Massive Attack’s 3D spoke about why they had no choice but to change their name whilst conversing with Mixmag in 1998. “The only compromise we’ve ever made is dropping the ‘Attack’ from our name, because of the Gulf War and the pressure we were getting from the radio in particular,” he admitted, “We were naive, we didn’t know what the right thing to do was, but we knew it was a compromise. It was a ridiculous, pointless exercise for everyone.
“Then the other day, I was reading the paper and it’s all happening again over there. I can just imagine the headline: ‘MASSIVE ATTACK ON IRAQ’, the day before the album’s released. All the major stores turn around and say we’re not stocking the album, it’s in bad taste. You can see it now, can’t you?”
Although compromise isn’t usually in the DNA of Massive Attack, on this occasion, it was the right move and ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ would go one to become one of the defining tracks of the decade. The song was their first taste of commercial success, it charted highly internationally and even topped the charts in the Netherlands, without becoming a hit in the UK first it may never have done.
Massive Attack are known for their stringent anti-war values now as they have campaigned relentlessly for peace over the last-30 years but, back in 1991, they were an unknown quantity. If the group didn’t temporarily change their name, then ‘Unfinished Sympathy‘ wouldn’t have grown into this huge hit for the group and that stellar career they’ve gone on to had may have never come to fruition.