But not at first. Tricky originally was a part of the bar-setting trip hop collective Massive Attack (by way of his membership in The Wild Bunch), a band who to this day has continued to be the defining artist of the genre. MA’s first release Blue Lines is on my top 10 list of the albums of all time, but isn’t really a trip hop album. It’s got a lot more heart and soul than every other trip hop album combined and still maintains that dark edge that you come to expect trip hop . It’s a true work of art. Tricky offers his rap stylings on the album.
With his discovery of the 15-year-old Martina Topley-Bird and their cut of an initial single that Massive Attack were not interested in, Tricky struck out on his own. He used his new-found freedom to explore the harder “hop” edges of the trip hop sound. Out of the gates he created a masterpiece with Maxinquaye, joining Blue Lines as one of the best albums ever. It has track after track of darkly dusted soundscapes with deep beats, lush lyrics and smart samples, my favorite of which borrows from the Smashing Pumpkins “Suffer”. I listened to the album again recently and it absolutely holds up, creating much of the same excitement as when it first came out.
Tricky followed up Maxinquaye with Pre Millenium Tension in ’96 and based on that record, it seemed like Tricky was destined for greatness, the album was/is awesome. It flows a little less easily than Maxinquaye does but still a very well crafted record of intense artistry. Tricky challenged his audience only a bit more on this record, he still delivered some melodic trip hop goodness, but with a few more heavy and halting breaks and experiments that pushed the genre deeper into dark territory. The album continued Tricky’s partnership with the amazingly talented Topley-Bird whose hauntingly sweet voice gives a track like “Makes Me Wanna Die” the chance to give me the chills each time I listen. Typically whenever I get into a conversation about Tricky and his early career, Maxinquaye and PMT are mentioned together as work that are in partnership. Most people are fans of both records even if PMT is a tougher pill to swallow. If you like what Tricky was doing on Maxinquaye, you go to that place that he brings you on PMT, even if it’s a bit more work because the reward is so great.
I haven’t been willing to go much further than that with Tricky, which is a cop-out on my part. We all get a little bit lazy in our old age, and I just haven’t been that willing to work too hard to keep up with Tricky’s later career. The album “Angel’s With Dirty Faces” was the album that started to put me off-balance. It was as if Tricky was trying to make a record that wouldn’t be recognizable by his fans. You have to give artists credit for pushing boundaries and for NOT re-making their successful sound (should they be lucky enough to have one) and taking the easy route each time. It’s part of what confirms that Tricky is a true artist, always looking to expand his canvas. Tricky didn’t like the “trip hop” label he was carrying, and leading, yet he was motived to rule the airwaves in ways that his hip hop compatriots have done. To do that, Tricky would have had to compromise too much integrity, even though he has it in spades.
I honestly still haven’t gone back to re-listed to “Angels…” since I started writing this entry. Since then, Tricky has released 5 other albums and I’m sure that across them much of his genius is still intact and in some cases even very approachable. I just need to get off my lazy music ass and dig into Tricky’s late catalog as I’m sure to be rewarded. Tricky hasn’t insulted us by trying to ride the potential cash cow as the king of trip-hop. He’s challenged himself as an artist and us as an audience and it’s up to us to take the challenge or not.
The show? Well, this is still another one of those old shows that I can barely remember, but I do remember being disappointed. Given that Tricky was touring on Angels at this time, his show was not a “greatest hits” set of the best stuff from Maxinquaye and PMT, but of a bit of a ranting mess in comparison. He didn’t have Topley-Bird with him for the show, which was a BIG bummer. She hadn’t yet committed suicide (one of the biggest losses in music), so that wasn’t the reason she wasn’t there. It could have been a variety of reasons – she didn’t like to tour, Tricky was trying to distance himself from her – who knows. I wonder what Tricky would be like to see live these days…maybe I’ll have the courage to find out…