A perennial part of Massive Attack’s setlist since the early 90s, Hymn of the Big Wheel, which was released as a single on this day (10 February) in 1992, is arguably the Bristol group’s most poignant track, as reggae star Horace Andy ponders life, love and what the future holds.
“The big wheel keeps on turning
On a simple line, day by day
The Earth spins on its axis
One man struggle while another relaxes”
Given the current impasse the planet faces with regard to climate change, many of the lyrics ring particularly true with today’s audience (“An acid drop of rain recycled from the sea/It washed away my shadow, burnt a hole in me”), and while the track is not explicitly about environmental sustainability, it was one of many factors that helped shape it, as Robert Del Naja (aka 3D), told NME Magazine in 1991.
“Hymn Of The Big Wheel does build a bigger picture than the rest of the tracks on Blue Lines, because the rest are kind of unfocused – they just drift around and round in their own way, which is what we’re into, rather than paint an obvious picture or leave a message,” he explained.
“We’re as worried about things like pollution as everyone else, it’s just we don’t want to write about it so obviously. We ain’t got no solutions to the problems, we’re just the same as everyone else living it. We’re just pointing things out to ourselves, rather than to everyone else. It’s just a story about a man talking to his son, talking about the future or what’s gonna happen, what’s it all about? Just questions, y’know. We don’t offer alternatives like solar power or anything like that.”
Hynm of the Big Wheel has also become a staple part of Horace Andy’s setlists in recent years, along with other tracks the Kingston-born artist has performed with Massive Attack, including Angel and Man Next Door.
Here he is performing an incredible stripped-back version in Sydney in 2008… keep an ear out for the chilling nuclear warning siren at the two-minute mark.