TRICKY aka NEARLY GOD has just recorded 'an album of brilliant demos'.
TAYLOR PARKES wonders whether they're up to the finished article
Durban Poison (10 tks/52 mins)
is a constant; fear is honesty. Fear is what happens when we stop f---ing
around. Fear is our first instinct, stronger than reason, stronger than
the mere artifice of thought. Fear wins.]
It begins with a choke on dope smoke, then a long, and thick, and impossibly weary exhalation....
[Because fear is always justified. You have nothing to fear but fear itself; fear itself, being rootless, unbound by origin and thus frontierless, actice and all.encompassing, is enough. Fear is a man's best friend.]
And I sometimes wonder whether, as it sounds, all of Tricky's anxiety and parched paranoia could shrink to nothing of eh just stopped smoking quite so much dope. All the symptoms of which he complains, and all the moods he paints and produces, are textbook. It's not much of an addiction to beat. Unless your personality, the vision that defnies you and has made you, has formed around that central pillat of over-indulgence, and the shifting, slow-humming dysfunction it prompts.
Then (recalling "Poems" and its chilled, refracting structure, its virulent, vulnerable vocal, its emmense gravity, suspended), I think briefly of Tricky in the tradition of 19th Century mystics, fasting to create
and an insufferably intensified worlview, sacrificing stability in the
hope of nudging nearer the heart of creation, precise in his pain, gasping;
Tricky, the true poet, fearful at the borderline.
And then (recalling the ragged cut-and-paste of the ineptly-edited intro to "Keep Your Mouth Shut", hardcore rap snipped and jammed between waves and whirls of white noise), I think briefly of Tricky in the trdition of lazy, spliffep-up, fogged-over bastards, starin bleary at allnight TV, flanked by streaked plates and newspapers and scratched Def Jam 12-inchers, chancing one improbable, profitable evening on a formula that allows him to fumble forever more and spew brilliance like spit, effortlessly, as comely as it's clumsy, incognizant; Tricky the autistic auteur.
[Because fear isn't a weakness in itself; it's a consequence of wekness, a distillation of our humiliation in the face of infinity, or inevitability. Fear minds our business. Fear rocks.]
"Nearly God", talked up by Tricky himself as "not a proper Tricky album, more like a bunch of brilliant demos", might not be the album of the year, but it's the album of... something. It's "Maxinquaye" as much it's anything, but there's nothing here as fluid and
as giddily graceful, as "Abbaon Fat Tracks"; there's nothing here as speedy
or as enraged as "Black Steel" and "Brand New You're Retro". Rather, it
sounds subterranean and agonised, illuminated only by natural phosphorescence,
shaky and shuffling, unadorned by any of the sodden, saturated, sheen that
allowed the earlier album to sit (like a sore thumb, yet somehow correct)
on the cooler coffe tables.
As with the bleak and intimidating St Paul's district of Bristol "Nearly God" calls to mind, one requires courage as well as curiosity to walk its thin streets and tight corners; unlike "Maxinquaye", whose confusions and convulsions were sufficiently marked and easily-grasped to cheap-thrill the day-tripper, it cannot be patronised or reduced. Absolute immersion os the only option.
"Tattoo", the first frost (and, apparently, a remake/remodelling of a Siouxsie And The Banshees B-side), is weak, nut its placing at the start of side one seems suitable, some kind if preparation of perversity coming. Nothing happens. There's a couple of stringy, looped samples, an insistent, virtually unintellegible Tricky whisper, a vague air of violence. It's like staring into an overcast sky for five and a half minutes. A frieze, a freeze.
two, "Poems" - identical in mood and construction - simply by picking up
exactly where "Tattoo" let go, thickens the spell; the amorphous moping
gains a momentum immediately. And "Poems" is fantastic, the fall-out of
first love set to a slow tick, dub with its rhythmic motor ripped out,
spiced with tiny, icy flails of Spanish guitar; entirely self-absorbed,
subverted by the three voices (Tricky, Martina and Terry Hall, whose performance
has all the wonderful frailty of Tobert Wyatt) sharing a lead line of personal,
almost unendurable pathos: "We were a right paril of believers. A couple
of dreamers. So how come you hate me? You promised me poems..." The
whole thing is as touching and as pointlessly uindulgent as a memory.
[And while fear can be stemmed, it's never erased. Fear stains.]
Another thing: if "Maxinquaye" was flooded with a very vivid dread, "Nearly God" sounds half-dead. The terror and torpor is hinged this time on a near-absolute alienation. The songs that could reasonably be called duets have an emotional aridity that sounds less like cruelty than a self-centred, drug deadened passivity.
"Together Now" is a simple, funked-up shag-beat centred on Neneh Cherry's gasps and growls (suffused with an assured sexiness and sass she hasn't managed solo since her own "Manchild", seven years back), but it sounds stiff and fallible, vaguely dazed, Neneh's vocal distorted to the point of virtual white.out, as if drifting in through a heavy haze; towards the end, Tricky's own mashed mumble fades bac, clear and up-close - "Will you help me? Will you help me?"
And then, the snapped logic and nonsensical acoustics of "Keep Your Mouth Shut", a nebulous and extremely
sprawl, a snippet of Björk (very heavily rumoured to be Tricky's ex-lover,
not insignificantly) at her most open and innocent, drifting sweetly through
stormclouds of Sonic Youth menace and interference, interrupted at intervals
by the same sinister slur: "Keep your mouth shut, baby..." Tricky's
continued acceptance / confrontation of his cowardice, his own emotional
weakness, goes way beyong whingeing. Here, he just sounds helpless.
[Because fear cannot be beaten, only obscured; it's nourished by inactivity and reflection. Whenever we habe time to ourselves, hear is what we find. Fear lives here.]
It's fair for Tricky to write this off as "not a proper album", but that sounds like an excuse. "Nearly God" (whisper it), is far from perfect, sounds unfinished, rather like one of those "Great Losz Albums" legends leave to be discovered years later: abandoned, left at an impasse. I wonder just what demon stopped him short, and curse it, in cursing "Make A Change" - a pretty but half-cocked showcase for Alison Moyet - and B-side bollocks like "Bubbles".
More frustrating still when we come to "Black Coffee", where a vicious piano sample from "Pills And Soap", one of Elvis Costello's two or three worthwhile efforts, is looped under Martina's peerless vocal, hot and contained, peaking on a single desperate flourish ("They say a man is orn to go alone / And a woman is born to weep and fret...") as a wash of worry floods the troubled beats. "Black Coffee" is a NIneties soul song that sounds both soulful and of the Nineties: I pray for its ripples.
"I Be The Prophet" is better still, better than anything. Urgent, plucked strings
|and another self-surpassing
air of determination and grim expentancy - "I count the summer, direct
the drummers... I'm already on the other side..." - and the resigned,
spiralling cries of birds and insects gone stupid at August's end.
Since "Nearly God" is quite unlike anything, it's hard to value. Especially since Tricky's talent, however immense, always sounds like a hint, or a malfunction, a hole rather than a whole. Ultimately, though, it has to be judged a mess, albeit a hugely affecting one, a stop-gap, when three more months spent on arrangements and production would have fastered a masterpiece to surpass "Maxinquaye".
[Because fear is crucial to the order of things. Fear lives in the foundations of evolution and intelligence. Fear is secure.]
But Tricky can never be overlooked. He's (literally) incomparable, and he's necessary. As I've said before: he's still quite probably our best and most indefatigably contemporary artist, essential for now, since he's almost alone in sensing that, when desire is doubt, confusion is strength. That, in these times, free-fall could be the closest thing to freedom we find.
And his unique, unspecific, self-absorbed but un-self-conscious howl - with its horror and its hunger - reminds us of the only real choice that remains. Is it to keep up wih our age, attempt to match the madness with the speed and lack of logic in our lives? Or is it to retreat; return to where, in the fast, polluted gut of the brave and craven modern world, Tricky's crying ou with the monkey and the bird?
'Nearly God' is released on April 29
picture: Tom Steeham