Note: Due to a scheduling error on my part, this post went up for about an hour last Friday night. You are not losing your mind, nor have you inadvertently merged into a space-time roundabout.
Tricky’s Maxinquaye just turned twenty.
We listened to this album, a LOT, back in the day; whether due to overplay, or just where my head was at at the time, I didn’t like it as much as I liked Massive Attack (who had collaborated with the then-“Tricky Kid”, before he started releasing solo work as Tricky) or Portishead, the other two major players in the Bristol “trip-hop” trinity.
To my ear at the time, Maxinquaye had a seemingly…unfinished quality; this perception wasn’t helped by the fact that Tricky completely re-used song lyrics he’d previously used on Massive Attack tracks (on two different songs, no less), and another track (“Hell is Around the Corner”) uses the exact same Isaac Hayes sample/loop as “Glory Box” by Portishead.
Couple all that with the (admittedly very-good) Public Enemy cover, and the album felt to me like song sketches and fragments, not fully-fleshed-out ideas, when compared to records by the other two artists.
(I also saw a show of his that I just…didn’t enjoy).
So I put it away, and didn’t even keep a copy on my iPod.
I hadn’t listened to it in a few years, but I read a writeup over at the Quietus commemorating the anniversary, so I pulled it back out, and…man.
It is a really good record.
This piece with producer Mark Saunders describes the haphazard recording sessions for the album, which probably goes a way towards explaining my impressions of its rough, splintered qualities.
But despite its chaotic gestation, what the album DOES have -- in abundance -- is atmosphere. Cure fan Tricky’s interest in collaborating with Saunders was partly grounded in Saunders’ work on Disintegration.
The Cure might seem like a weird reference point for music that is so clearly hip-hop derived, but it’s not all that strange (Massive Attack sampled “10:15 Saturday Night” on their “Man Next Door”); certainly the album is capable of effortlessly conjuring oppressive moods of crawling epic dank dread, interleaved with more musically-eccentric moments of whimsy.
The impact of Martina Topley-Bird, Tricky’s then-girlfriend and muse, shouldn’t be understated either. Her jazzy singing (much of it apparently largely-improvised on the spot in the studio) floats serenely above Tricky’s dark, raspy mutterings*; a wonderful contrast of sweet and sour.
*It never occurred to me until now how much Tricky’s drawled, unhurried flow reminds me of his cross-Atlantic contemporary and fellow marijuana enthusiast Snoop Dogg.