Home > Music > Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)

Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)

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“Cool percussion.”

My first exposure to this album was its second track, “Ponderosa”, and the little drum loop after the intro exemplifies one of the strengths of this album – its ability to find samples in strange places and make good use of them. Adrian “Tricky” Thaws was an early member of Massive Attack who drifted away and became a respected trip-hopper in his own right. His debut makes an interesting comparison to Mezzanine, although MA’s album before that might be a better match chronologically. Either way, the two albums play with meaningfully different approaches and come out sounding dissimilar despite common ancestry.

First of all, Tricky’s reliance on Martina Topley-Bird as a primary vocalist (his own contributions are usually more support-oriented) helps unify the tracks on this album. This is important primarily because of the combined emphasis on sampling and diversity of sources. I feel like Mezzanine‘s samples work towards a common aesthetic more effectively than the ones here, but I wouldn’t necessarily say strong theming was a concern here. Either way, Topley-Bird’s performance is an album highlight – this album would be an unknown if such a crucial element did not work. Her inflections add textural meat to these tracks, and if there’s anything trip-hop needs, it’s meat on its bones (read: substance).

Another source of substance here is found in a hint of genre mixing. Tricky has apparently made statements about trying to escape the trip-hop label this album saddled him with, but even here there’s a bit of experimental noodling. Most of the outside influences seem to come from alternative rock records, so this doesn’t reach Ulver on Perdition City levels (or, to push into familiar ground, Gargoyle or Sigh levels). There are some notable sections of droning guitar chords that often are the first to come to mind when I think of this album, perhaps most effective on “Black Steel”. Ironically, that track is a loose cover of one by Public Enemy, but the vocal and backing changes render it a very different experience from the original. The vocal approach of Tricky proper also comes to mind, as it’s primarily quiet and brooding; definitely an interesting choice given his apparent musical roots. One exception to this is the limited dynamics – it was a problem on Mezzanine, but it’s less of a problem here given the vocal contrasts and sampling variety. Not having listened to the works of Massive Attack that do feature Tricky, I really can’t say if he helped push dynamics on their earlier work, but it hypothetically could be the case.

More generally, Tricky and the rest of Massive Attack could be sides of a coin; this album has overall better vocals and a more varied soundscape, but lacks coherence over long distances. After Maxinquaye, Tricky apparently pushed more into the experimental aspects of his sound for the reasons I mentioned earlier, for better or worse. I do like my share of experimental weirdness, so I might end up listening to (and possibly reviewing) those in the future.

Highlights: “Ponderosa”, “Black Steel”, “You Don’t”

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