#LongPlayLove: Celebrating 20 Years of Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye’ [FULL ALBUM STREAM]

IMAGE_soulhead_long_play_love_tricky_maxinquaye_02_20_95By Justin Chadwick | @justin_chadwick

Happy 20th Anniversary to Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye, originally released February 20, 1995.

In the summer of 1998, I travelled to – and fell madly in love with – England for the first time. While I spent most of my time discovering as much of London as I could in an all-too-short week’s time, I also had the pleasure of roadtripping it to a handful of lovely towns beyond the capital. Bath, Brighton, and York were some of the more memorable cities I visited, and I even made it up to Edinburgh, Scotland, which I enjoyed very much. And while each of these places satisfied whatever touristy urges I was feeling at the time, one town I visited had particularly special appeal for me: Bristol.

Located roughly 120 miles due west of London, Bristol is a historically vital, economically prosperous seaport with an ethnically diverse population north of 400,000, making it England’s sixth largest city. More importantly, for me, Bristol is the creative and spiritual birthplace of one of the most thrilling music movements of the past 25 years: trip-hop. At the risk of genre oversimplification, trip-hop represents the musical style that developed in the early-to-mid 1990s, predicated upon the confluence of electronic, hip-hop, dub, bass, R&B, funk and jazz music, among other sonic inspirations. Trip-hop attained both critical and commercial success globally, due in large part to the dynamic trio of Bristol-bred artists that originally developed the aptly-named “Bristol Sound”: Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky. And the subject of today’s post is the latter.

In the mid 1980s, aspiring rapper Adrian “Tricky” Thaws joined the now-legendary Bristol sound system collective The Wild Bunch, who would later morph into Massive Attack. Tricky’s association with the group would serve as his career launching pad, as they featured his signature raspy vocals and haunting lyrics on the title track of their landmark 1991 debut album Blue Lines, as well as two songs – “Karmacoma” and “Eurochild” – from their 1994 follow-up LP Protection. No longer content to perform as a secondary contributor within someone else’s spotlight, Tricky ultimately abandoned his collaborative work with Massive Attack to devote his creative restlessness and passions toward crafting his debut solo album.

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Maxinquaye – a homage in name to Tricky’s late mother Maxine Quaye – more than delivered upon the promise that had been manifest in his previous supporting roles, and heralded the proper arrival of a wickedly talented voice and musical visionary. A gritty, intoxicating, and inventive head-rush of an album, the Mercury Prize-nominated Maxinquaye confirms that Tricky’s musical imagination is more vivid than the vast majority of artists working today. While it is primarily indebted to hip-hop, the album blends multiple styles including ambient, dub, reggae, and rock, making it damn near impossible to pigeonhole, and thankfully so. The twelve songs are dominated by atmospheric, chilled-out fare that sound like the most beautifully dark and twisted lullabies you’ll ever dream of hearing. And a few propulsive, beat-driven compositions are incorporated throughout to ensure a more balanced, monotony-free listening experience, overall.

What ultimately makes Maxinquaye so unforgettable is that it is an album of marked contrasts that play off of each other to extraordinary effect. The most striking example of this is the intriguing juxtaposition of featured vocalist Martina Topley-Bird’s freshly alluring voice with Tricky’s substantially less polished, unabashedly raw wordplay. In theory, the combination of such antithetical vocal styles shouldn’t engender such an enchanting sound. But it most certainly does here. Presumably well aware of the vocal gold he had to work with in recording the album, Tricky actually defers much of the spotlight to Topley-Bird, whose not-so-secret weapon of a voice features on the majority of the songs and very nearly steals the show, single-handedly. And though she contributes to just one song (“Pumpkin,”), Alison Goldfrapp also thoroughly dominates the proceeding with her vocal prowess, which would find universal acclaim in its own right five years later with the release of Goldfrapp’s debut LP Felt Mountain.

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In addition to its seemingly incongruous vocal pairings, Maxinquaye’s duality is further manifested in its sonic inspirations. It sounds very much like a futuristic record, and remarkably so, considering that it borrows so heavily from the classic soul and hip-hop that predates it. Samples abound throughout the album, most notably on “Brand New You’re Retro” (Michael Jackson’s “Bad”), “Aftermath” (Marvin Gaye’s “That’s the Way Love Is”), “Feed Me” (KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police”), and “Hell is Around the Corner” (Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Rap II,” which was also lifted by Portishead on their “Glory Box” single). The key to making this dichotomy between old and new work so effectively is Tricky’s commitment to constructing these songs as distinctively original compositions, as opposed to the lazily recycled rehashes of already-proven songs that producers of lesser ambition often lean on. “Black Steel,” a cover of Public Enemy’s classic prison-break anthem “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” is the prime example of Tricky’s originality. Aside from staying true to Chuck D’s lyrics (sung by Topley-Bird here), the song’s mix of propulsive drums and guitars sounds nothing like PE’s version, further affirming the album’s pure ingenuity.

Tricky has recorded nine albums since Maxinquaye, and with each subsequent recording, he has gradually abandoned the more subdued approach of his debut, in favor of more rugged, harder-hitting sounds. So Maxinquaye represents a bit of an anomaly – and a brilliant one – when considering his catalog as a whole. It’s a fantastic record that requires repeated, focused listens (headphones highly recommended) to fully understand and appreciate its genius. Along with Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and Portishead’s Dummy, Maxinquaye completes the triumvirate of quintessential trip-hop records, which collectively define the Bristol Sound that many would attempt – and fail – to replicate time and time again.

My Favorite Song: “Aftermath”

Bonus Videos:

“Overcome” (1995)

“Ponderosa” (1995)

“Black Steel” (1995)

BUY Tricky – MaxinquayeStream Here:

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