|Ain't That a Shaman
Angels With Dirty Faces
|Let's clear the decks first: The
truck with Tricky is that he is a self-appointed millennial - a rapping
hood anointed in spliff haze that, once deered, reveals some savory funk
fare but not a black-steel savior, as one of his clever pseudonyms attests,
he is only "Nearly God". His is music for moody pseuds, its enjoyment occluded
by difficulty: if he really does make more sense the more you listen to
him, it's because he projects the qualities of a shaman - dope-freak indulgence,
woolly thinking, slack language - over beats that captivate through disorientation.
And while his third album's not exactly a charm - Tricky will never willfully
to any listener - the forward-pushing funk on Angels With Dirty Faces turns up at least three fantastic, phantasmic tracks... and then there's the rest of it, the gristle of genius, the tough chew through loose leafs slipped from an enormous poetry collection, the work that suggests Tricky must have hundreds of similar songs; for these, he's slyly offering a disclaimer: "Only joking / Too much smoking."
Seriously though, PJ Harvey's music can bejust as inscrutable, but here their duet "Broken Homes" is priceless - in the sense that its lyrics are unbuyable (try that for a definition of beauty-as-truth). After the electro-shocked funk of the fine album-opening "Mellow," Broken Homes" rolls out a marching drum and a gospel choir's haunting incantation: "Those men will break your bones / Don't know how to build stable homes" as Harvey solemnly sighs. "Is there cancer in the throat? / No stress / Maybe it's supposed to kill the success / murder is media." Tricky can't wait to exhale and blow away the faux feel-good fumes: His "forced laugh / forged autograph" couplet echoes "Shuffering and Shmiling," Fela's '70s Afro-beat anthem about smiling only making the plight of the oppressed worse. On "Singing The Blues" Tricky's longtime partner Martine puts on her Roberta Flack jacket (rendering her impervious to the off-beat's wild syncopations, Tricky's drummer out-outing Max Roach with a killing dancefloor pattern) to deliver a devastating hardluck tale - great song number three. (Martine also clocks the lines on "Analyze Me" that best describe the music: "Red zones in my headphones / The devil's tools inside the spools.") Then the dank smoke gathers: "The Moment I Feared" is undanceable drum and bass, a bunch of Zappa jazz, Tricky's larynx, a twisted black ribbon around an explosive narrative about going to a club ("Boogie Down was performing...ain't no joke"), meeting a girl, getting rolled on. It's undeniable that' the raspy-tonsiled, nappy-tonsured Tricky is his own MC: "I don't rap / I don't sing / Emotions I bring," he busts, and then, although John Lennon once argued against the meaningless use of "just" in lyrics, Tricky flips it: "It'sjust energy." Mad energy.
At the start of John Boorman's 1974 flick Zardoz,the floating head asks, "Is God in show business, too?" as a preamble to deicide; Tricky is like Zardoz on No-Doz, deep in a sleepless future, dissing the corporations he's bedding down with. Though the album doesn't include his venomous response to a PolyGram honcho's racist comments about the employabillty of black men, on "6 Minutes" (notable for its rhyming of "pre-menstrual" with "vegetable"), Tricky titters, "Champagne at the bar / Meet the new A&R" in reference to his own Dreamworks-financed label Durban Poison, and the album's close pairs frightening sonic scrambles with sulfurous vocals on "Money Greedy" and "Record Companies" - points sharply made, acid irony-bath taken. Angels With Dirty Faces bleeds deft tones - the wail that the Bomb Squad took from the JB's, the time-to-replace-the-windshield-wipers scratching on "You." It's a genuinely weird record, unstoppably spontaneous-sounding, offering multiple examples of the paranoid epistles Tricky's converted lap up - thank Nearly God for the crucial inclusion of the focused cuts, when into the concussion Tricky drops his balm.