Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tricky - Maxinquaye (1995)

I've mentioned it numerous times in and out of posts for as long as I've been posting, but I figure I may as well dive into it a bit deeper as opposed to making an entire post about it.  Music from the 90's was strange.  That's my point, and I'm sticking to it.  

What does that mean exactly?

Well, for openers, unlike any other decade before it, the 90's somehow managed to cycle and support many different types and genre's of music.  Sure, each decade has it's factions, but in the 90's, never have so many distinctly different types of music manage to come to the forefront of prominence and stay there, or at the very least, leave a lasting impression.  Go with me for a sec, How on earth does such a huge amount of seemingly underground music, become so mainstream that it actually makes things like alternative and subculture, popular?  This is really a whole other type of post after all and I'll do it someday.  Instead, think about how on earth we rediscovered that music could come from anywhere that wasn't LA, the midwest, or down south?  In the 90's we discovered that "Seattle" sound, praised the resurgence of Detroit Rock, this time, they're garage rockers.  Both the east and west coast took rap music and did two very different things with it, both somewhat incredible.  Globally, music became just that, more global.  The Caribbean influences we once knew of Reggae, Island, or World music, became Ska when mixed with punk.  European DJ's began fusing musical styles together and created Trance.  Still there was one real big surprise, a holdover from the 80's that somehow managed to evolve into something bigger.

Music from the UK in the 80's was largely straight Punk.  Sure, there were UK rockers, but they were for older people.  Nobody can or should ever discount The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Who, and much too many more to mention.  Instead, you got to ask what could pass as UK's underground?  Frankly, Rap.  Rap, across the pond, was by many rights considered, well, dirty.  Not from a context point of view, but more of a class point of view.  Not too dissimilar from here in the US when you think about it. though while Rap here was generally always been about either status social issues, there it was more political and then social.  Yet, for some reason, it was far too liberal for the mainstream and therefore, considered something that should only be heard in a club or the confines of your personal music player.  To that end, is it any surprise that the 90's trend in music could affect the UK as well?  The global landscape changed so much in Europe that the tail end of generation X began to speak up and have a voice.  It was that voice that took underground music to the mainstream with a message.  Fittingly, in January of 1994, this happened.


For context, I was still in high school when I heard this for the first time, Coming from the school of darkwave music where Depeche Mode, the Cure, Dresden Dolls and Bauhaus were my hero's, this was so damn life changing I had to really think about whether or not I was completely goth or not.  Ahead of Tricky's first solo album, Maxinquaye, he released Aftermath as the first single about a year before the album ever went off.  At the time, people only knew of Tricky from his work with Massive Attack who at this point were still riding high from their legendary 1st album, Blue Lines.  Tricky enlisted his then Girlfriend, and accomplished and incredibly talented singer by her own right, Martina Topley-Bird to duet with him, and for added quality, selected a co-producer in Marc Saunders.  The same Marc Saunders that produced 2 Cure albums, Mixed Up and Wish 2 years prior.  The thing about Aftermath that really caught my attention as well as the attention of others was the production style.  Up until this point, nobody had even conceived such a style of music.  How could something so gritty, disjointed, and tempo shifting be so addictive?  3 Months later we found out that Aftermath was only the beginning.


Ponderosa popped up like a fluke.  People had already forgotten whatever Aftermath promised to be, without an album to support it, it became a 1 off to musical oblivion.  Then Ponderosa happened.  Tricky took a slightly bigger backseat to the performing side and let Martina shine here.  He also experimented with a number of musical styles, samples, some seriously unheard of broke beats.  It came together like a beautiful mess.  It was the first song that I had ever heard that sounded like it could have started off with worst of intentions and became someone's art project.

As 1994 wore on, Tricky finished producing Maxinquaye, named after his mother, there wasn't another single released until January of 1995, a month before the actual album was released.  It made a lot more sense to release something that's was as hard hitting as Aftermath was a year before.  It ended up serving as the arrival of something differently great.  You see, had Maxinquaye been released in 2004, it may not have really registered with anyone.  We needed to hear Queen Latifah's U.N.I.T.Y, Ini Kamoze's Here Comes The Hot Stepper, Sheryl Crow's All I Wann Do, and quite a few others before we could absorb something so different to music.  (Yep, that all happened in 1994.)  By 1995, Aside from TLC, there really wasn't anything else out that nobody hadn't heard of yet.  That really developed a landscape free for the taking.  That's when Tricky released Overcome.


By the time the album dropped a month after this, Trip-Hop was officially a genre.  Tricky, along with Martina Topley-Bird, Massive Attack, up and comers Morcheeba and Portishead a year before had become legitimate with the release of this album.  This song, in particular, gave this music an anthem for the most underground of underground sound.  

Black Steel

In March, Black Steel was Tricky's take on a Public Enemy hit from 1989.  If you ever wondered what Public Enemy would sound like if they were Punk - Rock, you get a real good sense of it here.  Martina Topley-Bird really stood out here more so than any other song on the record.  Tricky at this point was really a background singer.  Another thing of note is that it's the 4th in a series of released music that doesn't have a stable tempo whatsoever.  This style of music would continue to not only be a hallmark of music that will become popular in the future but a trademark of Tricky for years to come.  


The last single released from here was Pumpkin.  If you listen really close, you'll hear a very young Allison Goldfrapp.  That's right, the same Goldfrapp that got super popular during the resurgence of glam-pop in the early to mid 2000's.  You'll have to listen to this song on its own.  It's a good thing that there's no official video to go along with it.  I'm sure you'll have no problems whatsoever coming up with your own images here.  It's just that vivid.  Tricky is one hell of a personal storyteller and an even better artist.  Maxinquaye is the result of such genius.

Maxinquaye to date has sold well over 500,000 records worldwide, and while that doesn't sound like very many, I assure you for something once widely regarded as underground only, or for subculture fans only, to be as acclaimed it was, and to become a defining album in all of music, it's nothing short of outstanding.  Like much of music from the 90's, it was up until fairly recently damn near impossible to find on vinyl.  The fine folks over at Music On Vinyl rereleased this album in 2012 and as of 2016, it's becoming harder to get again, especially as a new generation of people are discovering Tricky for the first time.  The jury is still out on his newest album, Skilled Mechanics.  It was released on January 22nd and I haven't had  a chance to listen to it completely yet.  When you're ready, you can find this, Maxinquaye and perhaps a few other great Tricky releases at Newbury Comics.  

Next week, yes I promise you there will be an update next week, I've already started writing it, I'm going to deal with a few soundtracks.  Some fun, others funny.  All of them on vinyl.  Never stop spinning.

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