Black Steel – Tricky (1995, Island Records)
I have said numerous times in this very series that there are only eight actually perfect albums. If there were to be a ninth, then it would be ‘Maxinquaye’ the astonishingly raw and groundbreaking debut album by Tricky. For a long time this album sat in the ‘Perfect’ category, and it is only in recent years that it has been downgraded to ‘Nearly’ perfect, but even then only just. It is a 9.98 out of 10 album.
Nearly thirty years have passed since its release and in all that time, not one second of ‘Maxinquaye’ has aged. It came at a time when pretty much everything that was released was guitar driven white boy indie pop. The mainstream radio shows were only ever playing songs about “living forever” and “dirty pigeons” and Tricky offered a paranoid and doubt ridden relief from Britpop.
‘Maxinquaye’ takes you on several journeys, its twists and turns like a bobsleigh on the Cresta Run. It is a proper kaleidoscope of visions, sounds, textures and attention grabbing lyrics (“I drink until I’m sick and smoke until I’m senseless”). It is an incredible record, sure its paranoid and racked full of doubt, but it’s also unique and unrepeatably brilliant.
One of the most remarkable things about this record is the way that the music (and smoky vocals) conjured up by Tricky combine with the wispy, beautifully melancholy vocals of Martina Topley Bird over the first three tracks. ‘Ponderosa’ for instance is incredible, an evil lullaby of a song that was catalyst enough for Island Records to be persuaded to sign Tricky and his devilishly devilish musical ideology. Martina Topley Bird by the way is one of rocks unsung heroes, her contribution to this album is what ultimately makes this record so utterly essential.
Ponderosa – Tricky (1995, Island Records)
It is the sort of album that asks all sorts of questions, not only about its repeating themes of identity, perception and trust but also of its creators Tricky and Topley Bird, most of the answers to these questions are skirted around leaving a deliberate air of mystery around it. The answers are not important really, because the music that does the talking. The way the vinyl scratches on ‘Hell is Round the Corner’ (which rides the same sample as ‘Glory Box’ by Portishead), the constant contrast of voices, the way a guitar strikes up out of nowhere during ‘Aftermath’ and almost shoves that haunting flute out of the way, the way at times the beats threaten to suffocate the very life out of Tricky’s voice.
Aftermath – Tricky (1995, Island Records)
Hell Is Round the Corner – Tricky (1995, Island Records)
Talking of guitars, whilst this mainly an album of whispers, and coyly uttered winks and nudges, the cover version of Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel’ rocks like a rabid, foaming mouthed bastard and is a rare beast in that it is a cover version that is miles better than the original. Elsewhere familiar samples crop up all over the place, ‘Pumpkin’ samples the Smashing Pumpkins, naturally enough, and ‘Brand New You’re Retro’ (which also rocks like a rabid, foaming mouthed bastard) samples Michael Jackson.
Brand New You’re Retro – Tricky (1995, Island Records)
‘Maxinquaye’ is an album that is possessed by a wicked glint in the eye. It is beautiful, mesmerising, and whilst it may not be the easiest of listens (which is why it is not quite as perfect as I first thought it was) it remains the sort of record that should grace all collections.