Nearly Perfect Albums – #43 – Maxinquaye – Tricky

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.

100 Songs with One Word Titles (85 – 81)

Technically I never voted in this countdown.  I did however, create a list which showed the order I would have ranked them if it was left to me.  A list that I will only refer if one thing happens, which is if there is a tie.  Then I will refer to my list and the song that is higher will be given an extra point.  Three of todays songs (84, 83 and 82) all got the same points.  In my list there were 76 places between the song at 84 and the song at 82.  Just saying.

85. Grace – Supergrass (2002, Parlophone Records, Taken from ‘Life On Other Planets’)

On reflection Musical Jury Member 3 might have been right.  “WHY!” he shouted at me in an email “have you not gone for ‘Alright’ by Supergrass it’s a far better song than “Grace”, I’m not voting for it out of sheer annoyance!”  The answer, is because, I hate ‘Alright’ with its plinky plonky piano and its cheeky chappy chirpy geezer lyrics. ‘Grace’ is a much better song and it’s inspired by a children’s money box instantly making it more likeable than nearly everything Supergrass have recorded.  Although I agree ‘Alright’ would have definitely got more points.

84. Overcome – Tricky (1995, 4th & Broadway Records, Taken from ‘Maxinquaye’)

‘Overcome’ is of course a cover version, of sorts.  More a remake of a track (‘Karmacoma’) that Tricky recorded with Massive Attack on their ‘Protection’ album.  Tricky turns what was originally a stoned sounding walk in the park into some sort of paranoid hazy dream of a song.  He even replaced the gruffness of the Massive Attack version and replaces it with the vocals of Martina Topley Bird and it’s effect is devastating.

83. Olympians – Fuck Buttons (2009, ATP Recordings, Taken from ‘Tarot Sport’)

It might be lazy but this only appeared on the blog a few days ago when it was featured as part of the ‘Nearly Perfect’ Series so I’m just going to direct you back to that review if no one minds, I mean it’s a very good review and should almost certainly be read twice.

82. History – The Verve (1995, Hut Records, Taken from ‘A Northern Soul’)

‘History’ is brilliant, an epic string laden twist on a conventional ballad.  It set the scene as far as The Verve were concerned for everything that followed it – huge songs weighed down with strings, soaring vocals with more than just a hint of bitterness.  It was, it was rumoured to be about Ashcrofts split with his girlfriend at the time, although he denies this, probably because around the time this was recorded, he was more probably than not carrying on with Jason Pierce’s girlfriend.  Might just add an ‘allegedly’ there.

81. Cornerstone – Arctic Monkeys (2009, Domino Records, Taken from ‘Humbug’)

Here are two relatively rare facts about ‘Cornerstone’ – you may of course already know these, apologies if you do.  Anyway, the vinyl release of ‘Cornerstone’ was only made available to buy in branches of Oxfam.  Which is a brilliant thing to do but it did rather limit the success of the record, as it peaked at number 94.  The B Side ‘Sketchead’ actually sold more copies on download than ‘Cornerstone’ and rose on its own to Number 80 in the charts.  This makes it one of the few singles in chart history where the B side has performed better than the A side.  I know, I bet you are even gladder that you woke up this morning.

The Never Ending Playlist Week #1

2. Makes Me Wanna Die – Tricky (1997, Island Records, Taken from ‘Pre Millennium Tension’)

The first Tricky album ‘Maxinquaye’ is a masterpiece. The kind of record that no matter how many times you listen to it, you hear something new, something different every time you hear it. The sort of record that thirty years or so after its release, some gonk will be writing about on a poorly designed blog, and call it ‘nearly perfect’.

The second Tricky album ‘Pre-Millennium Tension’ is not a masterpiece. Its way too strange and too threatening to be that. It’s a record that sounds smothered, and wrapped up in (probably anyway) drug induced paranoia to the point where it is suffering from it. Its bleak, its claustrophobic, and a little awkward.

But it has its moments, like ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’, which despite its title is actually rather uplifting if ambient ballads can be that .

Here is another one of better tracks off of ‘Pre Millennium Tension’

Tricky Kid – Tricky (1997, Island Records, Taken from ‘Pre Millennium Tension’)