Tricky Maneuvers

It's rare that an album can simultaneously slap you and caress you, talk out of both sides of its mouth, and sum up the state of this Satanic kingdom we call Earth. But Massive Attack collaborator Tricky's first solo effort, Maxinquaye (Island), manages to do this, and more, in its twelve sharp-edged cuts. It's a deliciously evil, brutally amoral record that mirrors its time perfectly. "My mind thinks bomb-like, bomb-like," raps Tricky on "Hell Is Around the Corner" with a startling prescience. Whose mind isn't thinking that way these days? As part of the suddenly hot Bristol, England dance scene -- which also spawned the seminal Massive Attack and new critical darlings Portishead - Tricky's hanging ten on a major club Zeitgeist called "trip hop." But he, and the trip hop genre spawned by Massive Attack's 1991 classic Blue Lines, offer more than disposable grooves; there's an ingenuity and intelligence to this music that carries it far beyond the dance floor. Maxinquaye, in particular, offers an expansion of trip hop into new and fertile ground. While Massive Attack's latest, Protection, and Portishead's Dummy strip the genre down to its bones, Tricky's LP brings trip hop back into rich layers of sound and sensibility. Tricky relies heavily on Martine -- a sensuous vocalist with a palette that ranges from the powerful to the sublime -- to color these complex landscapes. Well over half of the tracks feature her as the lead vocal, often to the complete exclusion of Tricky's voice. Maxinquaye is certainly the first in a string of appearances in Martine's career. But while Tricky may hide behind his singing and rapping partner's vocals, it's his intelligence and sheer audacity drives the LP to its radicalism and brilliance. Maxinquaye exploits a few key motifs -- sex, gender roles, the devil, death and the music industry -- as fully as any pop music can. It's a tour of our culture's darkness transformed into a tour de force -- or, as Martine and Tricky put it more succinctly, "different levels of the devil's company." To begin at the shallowest level, Maxinquaye is an introduction to the devil's record company. Two of the LP's tracks -- "Brand New You're Retro" and "Abbaon Fat Track" -- are the most scathing music industry attacks since Graham Parker's "Mercury Poisoning" and the Sex Pistols' "EMI." "Brand New You're Retro" is all Tricky -- a hurtling, scattershot rap in which he packs in all the bile and ego he can throw down in less than three minutes: We know yes no It's my ego I'm fantastic Still You're fuckin' with my plastic "Abbaon Fat Track" gets deeper, a slow jam with an odd, layered echoing. "Fuck you in/ tuck you in/ suck you in," Martine coos seductively," with Tricky echoing. The track is a come-on, a subverted love song, but it culminates in sodomy and rape. A lot like the record industry. "Abbaon" exploits -- albeit for satire -- a gender bending that fuels Maxinquaye in other, subtler ways. The lone cover -- a revved-up rock version of Public Enemy's paranoid masterpiece "Black Steel in an Hour of Chaos -- employs Martine, and not Tricky, to sing the anti-draft, anti-imprisonment revenge tragedy. The result is an utter deconstruction of the song that somehow works by reversing its polarities. Reversing poles (and roles) is the meat of Maxinquaye. Tricky takes the masochistic role to Martine's dominatrix in the slinky S&M fantasia "Suffocated Love." "I think ahead of you," sings Martine, as keyboards bubble over a sensuous bass line. "I think instead of you/ Will you spend your life with me?/ And stifle me?" Martine's role on Maxinquaye is also to rework, with startling results, the two lyrics that Tricky contributed to Massive Attack's Protection: "Overcome" recycles Massive Attack's "Karmacoma," and "Hell Is Around the Corner" dips into lyrics Tricky wrote for the same LP's "Eurochild." These two tracks stand alone on their own merits as complete rethinks of the material. "Overcome" is a breathy ode to love and lust and death that exploits rhyme to maximum effect: You're a couple Especially when your bodies double Duplicate and then you wait For the next Kuwait "Hell Is Around the Corner" is a moody, self-absorbed gaze into the darkness of the self that steals the "Ike's Rap" sample used by Portishead on Dummy's "Glory Box." But these cops from Massive Attack and Portishead -- subverted by Tricky and sung by Martine -- also advance the game that Tricky plays with identity. The same words are sung by different voices in different patterns, and the same samples are used, though they are built upon, rather than laid bare. Maxinquaye will have a deep resonance for those familiar with all three groups. There are moments of startling and complete originality on Maxinquaye as well. "Ponderosa" builds from a rolling beat into a collage of sound and sample (including an ethereal Kate Bush sample) that buries the listener in grief and blackness. "See in black and white," sings Martine. "Feel in slow motion." Like the best pop, "Ponderosa" delivers musically what its lyrics deny. "Aftermath" is another stunner, a seven minute thriller that welds a shuffling beat, rock guitar, and toy piano, threads it with a flute, and then ends up quoting from the Young Rascals' "How Can I Be Sure." "So many things I need to tell you/ Things you need to hear," rap Tricky and Martine on "Aftermath." It's a credo for Maxinquaye as a whole. By isolating on its themes, many individual moments get lost -- like how "Pumpkin" builds from a Smashing Pumpkins' drum track into an almost Led Zeppelin-like guitar intensity, or how the brutal "Strugglin'" is punctuated by the starkest of rhythm tracks, a clip being loaded over and over again into a gun. But these individual moments build to a sublimity that is at once enticing and dangerous. Maxinquaye is an LP that not only challenges our conception of sound and space, but turns them upside. (Just check out Tricky's mantra "I fight evil/ with evil" on the rattling slow funk of "You Don't"). This is fiercely urban music, with all of the soul, scrapes and glass shards on the sidewalk attendant on that label. It's also brilliant urban music that rewards repeated -- I'm up to about 60 now -- listenings. Buy Maxinquaye.

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