Tricky – A Retrospective: 1. Maxinquaye

I’ve been a fan of Tricky since he first appeared as part of Massive Attack on their début, ‘Blue Lines’ and I’ve followed him ever since. His career is a little different as he is not really a front man as such, at least not in the normal sense of the word. He is often in the shadows, and it is quite the norm that he doesn’t noticeably appear on tracks at all. He is a writer & producer but also a collaborator, with so many people over the years it’s difficult to keep track, there’s Terry Hall, Björk, Gravediggaz, Grace Jones, Massive Attack and PJ Harvey, to name a few, but let’s start at the beginning.

Tricky was born in the Knowle West neighbourhood of Bristol, to a Jamaican father and a mixed-race Anglo-Guyanese mother. His mother, Maxine Quaye, committed suicide when Tricky was four due to epilepsy complications. His father, Roy Thaws, who left the family before Tricky was born, operated the Studio 17 sound system (formerly known as “Tarzan the High Priest”) with his brother Rupert and father Hector. In just this paragraph we have the basis for 3 Tricky albums, the debut Maxinquaye, Knowle West Boy and recent release, Adrian Thaws. It would seem that Tricky has never forgotten where he came from and has woven his early experiences into his later work.

It wasn’t an easy childhood in Knowle West, sometimes described as a white ghetto in Southern Bristol. He was involved in crime at an early age and was part of a gang that took part in car theft & burglary, and often ended up in fights with whoever crossed their path.

In the mid-1980s, Tricky met DJ Milo and spent time with a sound system called the Wild Bunch, which by 1987 had evolved into Massive Attack. He was given the nickname “Tricky Kid” and at age eighteen became a member of the Fresh 4, a rap group built from the Wild Bunch. He also appeared on Massive Attack’s hugely successful début album Blue Lines (1991).

Above are 5 tracks that Tricky appeared o with Massive attack, which is chronologically incorrect for this retrospective, but I’ve done it anyway. There were three tracks on ‘Blue Lines’, which were ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Blue Lines’ & ‘Five Man Army’. The next track is from second album ‘Protection’ and is called ‘Karmacoma’ and finally, the ‘Ritual Spirit’ E.P. which is pretty recent as it was only release in January 2016, with Tricky featuring on the track ‘Take It There’.

In 1991, shortly before the release of ‘Blue Lines’, Tricky met 15 year old Martina Topley-Bird in Bristol and she told him at a later meeting that she could sing. They recorded a white label, which was pretty basic, but got them a deal with Island Records and they started work on his début album.


Maxinquaye (1995)

‘Maxinquaye’ was an extraordinary album at the time, both innovative and startling. When I listened to it for the first time it was one of those very rare moments when I heard something the likes of which I had never heard before. Credited as the album that birthed Trip-Hop, which Tricky distances himself from, and the formation of the ‘Bristol Sound’, it was actually quite shocking, but in a wonderful and glorious way. Martina Topley-Bird 71jcLkpoG-L._SL1219_deserves a huge amount of credit as her voice contributed hugely to the whole aesthetic of the album, and echoes of here performance can be heard in many later releases of the period which both enhance the reputation of this album, but also diminish it to a degree, as if you have never heard the album before it’s impact is soiled by those it influenced.

Yes, I sing it’s praises, but do some from a position of somebody for whom a void was filled by it’s creation and whose enjoyment of music has genuinely been enhanced by it’s existence and much of what it spawned.

The album begins with a reworking of ‘Karmakoma’, titled ‘Overcome’, that was to appear on Massive Attacks second album, or perhaps it was the other way around. Tricky was open to wearing his influences on his sleeve and  re-imagined the Public Enemy trackOvercome-cover ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ into something completely different, unless you knew where it originated you may not have realised, many thought it was Tricky being covered by Public Enemy.

‘Hell is Around the Corner’  could easily have Beth Gibbons of ‘Portishead’ singing over the top of it, but instead has Tricky with Topley-Bird lazily, and beautifully, dipping in and out throughout the track.

On ‘Pumpkin’, Alison Goldfrapp takes the lead vocal, and does so with aplomb, adding a different dynamic to the album that complimented what had gone before and what was to come.

It is a milestone album, difficult perhaps to appreciate now just how large it’s impact was, but still full of brilliant songs and, I think, for a debut album, really quite remarkable. Here are some tracks from it.

Following the release and success of his debut album Tricky toured with PJ Harvey throughout Europe and the U.S. and partner Martina Topley-Bird is pregnant resulting in Alison Goldfrapp filling in for her on the tour. Their daughter Mazy is born in April of 1995 and shortly after they embark on a solo tour, again throughout Europe and the U.S. Tricky and Martina were soon over as a couple and Tricky is soon in a relationship with Björk, although there were some troubles with her former partner, Goldie. Tricky actually wrote and produced two tracks on Björk’s album ‘Post’ which, ‘Enjoy’ and ‘Headphones’.

Björk says about ‘Headphones’: “He was getting a lot of pressure from his record company, because there was a real buzz about his album, so he was a bit naughty and escaped to Iceland. We drove around in a four-wheel drive and saw the glaciers and swam in the hot spring and wrote this tune… I had this idea to do a song that is like a worship of headphones. The chorus is “My headphones saved my life, your tape lulled me to sleep.” All the noises in the song are just-for-headphones stereo tricks. It didn’t need a lot of instruments. Tricky feels really strongly about noises and beats, and that is exactly my weakest point.” (The Quietus).

The relationship didn’t last long and that winter Tricky was alone again and writing and recording a new album in Jamaica. He also took part in a lot of remixes and collaborations during 1996. Some are included below:

The remix for Garbage of ‘Milk’ is, in my opinion, superior to the official release.

What’s in the bag? (25)

Björk – Vulnicura. This is the ninth studio album by Björk. It was produced by Björk, Arca and The Haxan Cloak, and released on 20 January 2015 by One Little Indian Records. Björk allegedly said the album expresses her feelings following her breakup with artist Matthew Barney (For whom she created the soundtrack to the film ‘Drawing Restraint 9).

You may recall that Vulnicura was originally scheduled for release in March, in conjunction with the Björk: Archives book and an exhibition about Björk’s career at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Unfortunately, following an internet leak, it was released digitally two months early.

I first heard tracks from Vulnicura on the ‘Sound Opinions’ podcast and I was somewhat disappointed in myself, as I didn’t make up my own opinion, which I would usually do, and just accepted theirs. This is not to say they were wrong, but having now listened to the entire album, my opinion differs. The long and short of it is that this is a much better album than I was expecting. I had also heard another track on the ‘All Songs Considered’ podcast and that actually raised my expectations shortly before hearing the whole album. The song in question was ‘Atom Dance’, on which Björk is accompanied by Antony Heggarty, which I thought spectacular. Having now listened to the album as a whole, I do think it is probably her best work since ‘Vespertine’. Admittedly, there are no pop hits included and the tone is generally dark and brooding, as one would expect when dealing with difficult subject matter, although album closer, ‘Quicksand’ is rather upbeat tempo wise. The quality of the songs themselves shines through regardless of the mood and the track sequencing does cause the listening experience to have a sense of there having been a journey.

My version comes in a gatefold sleeve which is cased in an acetate slipcase, it really is a beautiful thing. The acetate links with the moving album cover, which was backed by the track ‘Family’, although this is 8:09 in length rather than the 2:35 included in the first video below. I suppose it was a teaser as much as anything and the first single release proper, ‘Lionsong’, also below, is a beautiful track that discusses her feelings some 5 months before they finally split up and captures the sense of a moment when a relationship breaks down. Specifically when you just want it to end so that you can move on. The lyrics are rather oddly constructed, but many of Bjorks are;

Maybe he will come out this
Maybe he won’t
Somehow I’m not too bothered either way

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he will come out of this
I smell declarations of solitude
Maybe he will come out of this

Vietnam vet comes after the war
Lands in my house
This wild lion doesn’t fit in this chair

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he won’t
I’m not taming no animal
Maybe he will come out of this

Once it was simple, one feeling at a time
It reached this peak then transformed
This abstract complex feeling
I just don’t know how to handle when
Should I throw oil on one of these wounds
But which one?
The joy peak
Humor peak
Frustration peak
Anything peak for clarity

Maybe he will come out of this loving me
Maybe he won’t
I’m not taming no animal
Maybe he will come out of this

Maybe he will come out of this
Maybe he won’t
Somehow I’m not too bothered either way

I refuse, it’s a sign of maturity
To be stuck in complexity
I demand all clarity

Maybe he will come out of this
Or he will feel so solitaire
Somehow I’m not too bothered
I’d just like to know

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History of Touches
Black Lake
Atom Dance
Mouth Mantra

Listening now, with a decent set of headphones, I can say that, sonically, this is beautifully constructed collection of songs. It is string laden, but also contains the sort of beats one would expect from Bjork. It has been described in one review as operatic, and I’d agree with that even though I find much opera to be impenetrable. This is not, it is open, and it is often uncomfortable and has a deep feeling of sadness, but it is not without hope. This is the journey through the nine tracks, from realisation to release and I do think that there is a positive feeling at the end of the album.

It isn’t available on Spotify as yet but below are some official videos that are available, and, as usual, the visuals are lovely.