Review Summary: This record is perfect for relaxing, dining or spending time with friends. One of the 1990s timeless records, it belongs in any collection. Its atmosphere is what carries it, and its fantastic lyricism and vocal performances is what lifts it.
One of Britain’s most unique talents, Tricky first came to prominence as a member of Massive Attack
, appearing on their debut album ‘Blue Lines’ and sophomore ‘Protection’. His distinct vocal style, of slow, almost whispered raps, and lyrics touching themes of anxiety, paranoia and anger touched a chord with many music fans in the early nineties, making him one of the leaders of the then new Trip-Hop movement. Rather than the usual theme of raps, this began as pure entertainment, and boasting about their rapping skills and sexual adventures.
Although Tricky is the prominent writer and producer for this record, most of the vocals are performed by Martina Topley-Bird, Tricky’s girlfriend at the time. She has a very powerful and haunting voice, which pairs very well with the vague, melancholy lyrics. She also has great range, being able to give ‘Black Steel’ the kick it needs.
The record begins with a new version of Massive Attack’s ‘Karmacoma’, this version is very different from the original. Although the lyrics, the pace and the atmosphere remain much the same. Martina Topley-Bird’s vocals and the dub inspired bass heavy rhythm, with sparse flutes make this more than a match for the original version. The music itself is very much in tune with the 1990s “Bristol Sound”, although Tricky’s work takes in some world music inspiration, and sometimes spans into alternative rock territory, although this would become more apparent in his later records.
Recorded in a cloud of smoke and daze of drugs, it is no coincidence that music took a leftfield turn in the UK at the beginning of the 90s, at the same time many drugs were easier to get hold of, although this is not just some ecstasy driven trance record, which requires drug use to be tolerated, this was simply inspired by experience. There is something strange about hearing Tricky’s lover at the time singing “Why do you wanna be with me? I’ve nothing to give’’. His paranoia is an unfortunate companion to this record, it does add a lot of character, but it can sometimes be hard not to feel for him. The record is named after Tricky’s mother Maxine Quaye, who suffered with depression and committed suicide when Tricky was only five years old. He has said that although he hardly knew her, he feels many of his lyrics are her singing through him. It makes the atmosphere what it is, as Martina Topley-Bird mothered Tricky’s child, and he chose her to sing words from her perspective. Beautiful.
Its not all doom and gloom however, the record is sparse enough to hold your attention, and has a few lighter happier moments as well. Such as ‘Black Steel’ which is a fantastic version of Public Enemy’s
‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’. Which featured some of Chuck D’s most immediate lyrics. Being performed by a mixed race woman with an alternative rock backing may sound like a terrible idea for this classic song, but it actually draws more attention to the lyrics, and shows the surprisingly upbeat and empowering spirit within one of the greatest protest songs ever written.
The general sound of the record is built around unusual percussion, not often performed (or sampled) from a drum kit, deep bass, quiet strings, Tricky’s whispered raps and Martina Topley-Bird’s voice towering over the rest of the music and grabbing your attention.
Martina Topley-Bird is not the only vocalist to perform on the record. A young Alison Goldfrapp performs the song ‘Pumpkin’, which is built around a Smashing Pumpkins
sample. Goldfrapp’s voice is very different to Topley-Bird’s, with whispered parts, and a much slower delivery, it breaks up the centre of the record and puts the breaks back on after the rocking ‘Black Steel’ and steadily thumping ‘Hell is just around the corner’. This also has one of the few moments when Tricky sings by himself, which makes a very good addition to the song, and his lyrics are much easier to follow and help with the arrival of the songs conclusion. This should be of interest to any Goldfrapp
fans out there, as it shows her as a breaking artist, singing in a fashion very different to what you are probably used too.
This record is perfect for relaxing, dining or spending time with friends. One of the 1990s timeless records, it belongs in any collection.