Nearly God (Durban Poison/CD/LP)
"Spingtime falls, summer calls, you slip and slide until you hit December/Believe my eyes, they'll bleed you dry/If I wasn't a genius I'd lose my temper..."
   So mews Terry Hall, the borrowed tongue of Adrian Thaws, aka Tricky, aka Nearly God on the gentle, ghost-looped acid jazz of 'Bubbles'. A genius? Tricky? Well, so he would seem to think. And a genius who's been prying at the altar of persecution complexes, too, by the the sound of it.
   Could it be that our man from the paranoia has smoked one too many bags of South African grass and banged his head on the way-up escalator to heaven? There is, after all, some truth in the contention that those whom the gods would destroy, they first call promising, and Tricky - lauded, awarded, loaded and prodded at by fame and, erm, touring schedules - was never the most steady ray of sunshine ever called by Jesus.
What then to make of a pseudonymous album, recorded in two-and-a-half weeks, and featuring a weird array of vocalists and old heroes? 'Maxinquaye', his
breathtaking debut, took four years to pull together. Is it, therefore, the sign of someone losing the plot when they release a quickly-done 'bunch of brilliant demos', while knowing full well that everyone will regard it as the new Tricky album? Well, yes, and thank the Lord, no.
There are delusions of arrogance here, but at least half of it is touched by the hand of that ol' black woman in the sky. Divine intervention prevents the appearance of Damon on the album. Mr Albarn withdrew from the project after his track had been recorded, and you can see why there might have been 'problems'.
The loopy loops and dysfunctional mantras of Tricky's smoked-out backing tracks are less tructured and more spartan than on 'Maxinquaye'. Sometimes it sound like he's just kicked the sequencer and walked out. The onus is heavily on the singers to carry the weight, and it doesn't always work.
   On 'Poems', Terry Hall is a superfluous presence sandwiched between the murmuring Messiah and his on/off girlfriend and muse Martina. It's a relationship sulk song, it drags badly until Martina's stoned sensuality takes over.
Neneh Cherry struts her soul sister stuff over the fluid funk loop of 'Together now', but lacking the usual Tricky edginess, it's not much more than pleasant,
lo-fi acid jazz. Similarly, Alison Moyet blues scorcher best on 'Make a change' is given little to work with (gutter-licking bass and a few violins) on a tune that ends up sounding like the Bodyform ad on perpetual repeat.
  Add to the misses list the unengaging, fractured neurotica of Tricky 's mid-period Sioxsie & The Banshee's 'Tattoo' you've got half an album of shaky,  so-so experiments. And then comes... Björk.
  Just as you're thinking the man's unique ability to simultaneously unsettle and seduce, the trill of the mushroom-minded
Icelander floats in over a huge clanking Eraserhead soundtrack and a metronome from hell, and the whole project starts to get into focus. 'Keep Your Mouth Shut' is not trip-hop. It's Hades-hop. It's padded-cell pop. It's the Butthole Surfers meets The Cardigans, and it's one of five tracks that justify the dippy, let's-just-jam-man, presumptions.
  The previous single (as The Starving Souls), 'I be the Prophet' is a sensual delight, with Tricky's psycho, pillow talk meshing nicely with his less nuttier alter ego, Martina. 'Bubbles' with Hall, hits a
similarly successful balance of the creepy and the blissed. Cath Coffey make a pretty thing out of the de-structured blues 'I sing for you'. And, again, the schizo, revolving lantern backing track of turning it into a kind of scratched record 'Summertime'. Even the final, totally free-form 'Yoga' - which sounds like God's cleaning lady humming while she does the washing up - has a kind of kooky charm.
   Teasingly brilliant, 'Nearly God' is by no means a mad man's record. Indulgent, yes, brave, yes. But it will do nothing to dislodge Tricky from his position as the acceptable, crossover face of lo-fi, minimalist, modern blues. And in the occasional epiphanies of the hiding, hating, chilling, fallen-angel lyrics and the disrupted sonic terrain, it's still a more vivid, realistic and touching record than any you're likely to hear anywhere else this week.
   Nearly God? Merely good, more like. One of God's better tokes. (7)

Roger Morton 

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