(4th & Broadway/All formats)
|EVERY FEW years, Bristol swims into focus once again as
a hotbed of British musical talent, a happening place that throws up beguiling,
poignant or just plain angry records. But then, perhaps due to its inhabitants'
lack of arrogance, love of the laid-back life and aversion to stardom,
the West Country's brightest spot soon disappears from view. 1995 is belatedly
shaping up to be the year of Massive Attack, Portishead and - most of all
- Tricky but you have to be astute enough to catch them while you can,
before they once again vanish.
Tricky Kid is one of Bristol's least definable sons, a former member of The Wild Bunch hip-hop collective and a rapper who made his name by contributing to Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines'. Now he's gone right off the map with no compass to bring you 'Maxinquaye', an LP with no precedents, blueprints or antecedents.
You never know what's going to happen next and you're not quite sure what you're taking in as you progress deeper into its wintry regions - yet you're held spellbound, enraptured, lost at the edge of words...
The modus operandi seems simple enough on paper as Tricky tries to write himself out of his hip-hop constrictions by bringing in 19-year-old Maxine - a woman wise beyond her years - to sing his raps. As he interjects in the background every so often, or takes centre stage on occasion, things start to go decidedly loopy - the two voices complementing each other and confusing gender. 'Maxinquaye' is at once a feast of androgyny and a forward - looking, hot/cold example of what can happen when technology is pushed to extremes. You get so disorientated you forget yourself and blissfully lose your mind.
An ominous clanking - like the rattle of prison chains, the roll of African drums, or the swish of House Of Windsor jewellery - tolls through the heart of the LP. Tricky uses samples and constructs beats from scratch, but you can hardly recognise any of the source material when he melts all the disparate elements together into a seamless whole. The fusion process is so complete, you can't label the results under any existing genre - be it hip-hop, rock or blues. And when Tricky and Maxine construct a damaged psychic alndscape through their words, both in relation to internal and external events, you're in pretty heavy company.
Tension, paranoia, claustrophobia, agoraphobia... 'Maxinquaye' has negative attributes by the bucket but tempers them with a humanity that shows there's hope out there
|somewhere. 'Overcome' shares lyrics with Massive Attack's
'Karmacoma', but you wouldn't guess as much from Maxine's fragile vocals
and a backing that seems to whistle at you as the ex-lover protagonists
of the song take a walk through the suburbs fearful of sudden violence.
These sad images continue through 'Ponderosa' - with its central image
of a weeping wino - and reach a peak of sorts in the dubbed-out, post apocalyptic
blues that is 'Aftermath'. This trio represents the Tricky canon of singles
so far, and now you drop into unfamiliar territory
Not many artists have attempted to cover Public Enemy songs and one listen to 'Black Steel' will tell you why: how do you go about covering a rap song without turning out a parody or novelty record? Answer: you truncate the song lyric, get Maxine to twist her way around the words and drag in a Manchester speed-metal group for cut-up purposes. The effect is startling, especially when 'Hell Is Round The Corner' follows by taking the opposite direction into crackling, minor-key blues. When guitars finally come back into the mix, as on 'Brand New You're Retro', the central riff is so disfigured and energetic and screwed-up that you feel you're experiencing something new.
Self-hatred and poisonous relationships also co-exist in 'Maxinquaye"s patchwork quilt. On 'Pumpkin' these negative attributes take the form of Tricky's self-absorbed monologue, contrasted against Alison Goldfrapp's wordless entreaties and set to a mid-tempo stroll. More disturbingly, 'Abbaon Fat Tracks' takes on the mantle of a package of insults, while 'Suffocated Love' touches on a complicated S&M relationship, with Tricky's skewered logic to the fore. Something's not quite right in his mind, but then, as he insists on the avant-garde, unsettling, 'Strugglin' - the one song that teeters on self-indulgence - he's saner than most people.
'You Don't' shows Tricky can be buoyant, bouncy and irresistible, but it's left to the closing 'Feed Me' to finally spot hope on the horizon after the storm, as Maxine takes a vocal tour of England and meditates on the meaning of freedom. As the last note echoes off into the ether, you know you've been through a remarkable experience; 'Maxinquaye' is one of those rare benchmark LPs that reveals new layers with each listen, but never fully offers up its secrets. Literally, a hard act to follow. (9)
picture: F. Voison