Monday, October 1, 2007

[058] Maxinquaye

Album: Maxinquaye
Artist: Tricky
Release Date: February 1995
Label: Island
Producers: Tricky, with Mark Saunders, Kevin Petrie and Howie B.

"Ugly noises and strange ways by the tube rays"
- from "Abbaon Fat Track"

Tricky's debut album out from under the Massive Attack umbrella, Maxinquaye is an uncomfortable record that's about being uncomfortable. The crux of every song is agitation of some kind, lyrically and sonically. It's to Tricky's credit then that, when left to his own (publicly unproven) devices, he takes full control of the direction of the album, and his flair for the music flourishes and in most cases eclipses his infamous whisper-rapping style. These songs are decaying like the troubled relationships they chronicle; more than most modern Hip-Hop albums, Maxinquaye is pieced together from the junkyards of Pop music, and that only adds to the creeping mood of the songs. On most every song, Tricky pushes Martina Topley-Bird to the fore to deliver his incomplete messages so he can hide in the background, afraid of his own thoughts and fears. They push against each other, the student becomes the teacher, the gender roles flip and then flip back, the accuser plays accused, switch on, switch off.

Sifting through the garbage beats of the album, you think you find things familiar, but they're so distant, blurry from lack of sleep, too much drink, or the haze of the weed high. The tumbling "Ponderosa" suggests Lee Scratch Perry messing with the Ewok celebration music of Return Of The Jedi, radio broadcasts fight for elbow room with banging piano; the duo follow the music's lead, drinking until drunk and smoking until senseless. This goes beyond "Trip-Hop". It's soul music of a different world, far from the defanged soup that would be pimped as soundtrack fodder only months later. Tricky knows this, taking the chance to build over the same Isaac Hayes sample as Portishead's "Glory Box" for the dread of "Hell Is Around The Corner"; it disguises its point in fractured thoughts, with Tricky letting slip, "Reduce me, seduce me", and you wonder, why in that order? On "Black Steel" he covers Public Enemy with the juxtaposition of Martina delivering the inmate's story and piling on the punk guitars. "Feed Me" tramples over skipping vocals, laying plinking piano as a lullaby base while periodically popping in on KRS-One. The bumper-to-bumper crawl of "Pumpkin" is built on a Smashing Pumpkins loop, Tricky pulling himself out from the gutters to mumble his misgivings on MTV's culture of hyper-speed information, as Alison Goldfrapp barely takes shape as she floats over the lilt.

The seven minute-plus "Aftermath" makes snow angels in tape hiss and clipped flute, rolling on some funk. Guitar licks stab you in the ribs, then, on "Abbaon Fat Track", they return to patch up the wound, then stagger out the door, stuttering something about snorting cheap thrills. Tricky actually takes a second to step to the mic and kick a rhyme on "Brand New You're Retro", but you're distracted by the new jack horns and the mangled "Bad" sample making like The Bomb Squad. As he chops up Jacko, Tricky flips the album's script again, dropping his most bold flow with his most inner fears and insecurities, stressing on being overrated, the album taking too long to come out, his mixed heritage, owning up, "Through the bars you see scars results of my rage". By the time you make it to "Suffocated Love", you're exhausted, but Tricky keeps pushing. You're drowning in the trash now, stray noises swirling around your head, sweeping strings passing sirens on the highway to dysfunctional love; Tricky's tale of an unhealthy relationship betrays his musical coupling with Martina, as they overlap. She asks if he'll spend his life with her, as he tells himself it's not love. The Chinese water torture of "Strugglin'" is a headphone wonderland, sounding like a Nine Inch Nails remix pulling the thread so far as to be unrecognizable; a collage of scraps, more chopped and clipped than anything else on Maxinquaye, barely holding together enough to let Martina let loose her bluesy blasts, Tricky is "lost in the layers of weakness", which is practically the manifesto for the album: layers and weakness. His narratives illustrate the world's everyday problems, and he mashes up gender specificity with denial, all over finger-paintings of cavernous found sound. He's coming apart before your ears, tripping to find the words. He says they label him insane. But it turns out he's more normal than most.

01. "Overcome"
02. "Ponderosa"
03. "Black Steel"
04. "Hell Is Around The Corner"
05. "Pumpkin" [feat. Alison Goldfrapp]
06. "Aftermath"
07. "Abbaon Fat Track"
08. "Brand New You're Retro"
09. "Suffocated Love"
10. "You Don't" [feat. Ragga]
11. "Strugglin'"
12. "Feed Me"

"Ponderosa" [video]

"Hell Is Around The Corner" [video]

- BONUS: "Black Steel" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Pumpkin" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Overcome" [single edit - video]

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