Music to F**k to (Or Paul’s Rough Guide to Tricky)

26 Jul

I enjoy a lot of different music, but there are some artists and albums that I’ll always come back to. Tricky is most definitely one of these. I was first introduced to Tricky by my dear friend Will Snow, whilst we were at university and I’ve been a fanatic follower ever since (of Tricky not Will, the judges restraining order put paid to that). Actually, I just wrote that because it sounded funny, not sure (for legal reasons) I’ve been a fanatic follower of anything, but Tricky has always struck me as one of the most diverse and interesting characters kicking around the music industry over the last few decades.

Tricky is Bristol Born, though now LA-based, musician Adrian Thaws. He is often credited, along with Portishead, as being the founder of the Trip-hop genre of music to come out of Bristol in the 1990s. Tricky was part of the original Massive Attack line-up, under the name Tricky Kid, before leaving the group to release his first solo album, Maxinquaye, with vocalist and love interest, Martina Topley-Bird. Since that point, Tricky has released 9 studio albums and collaborated with a diverse range of artists from Nelly Furtado and Paul Oakenfold to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Alanis Morissette. Randomly, he also appears in Paul Verhoeven’s The Fifth Element, a cameo almost as strange as his appearance on stage with Beyonce at her 2011 Glastonbury headline slot (not sure how/why that happened).

As for the name of this post? I was once drunk (I’m a liar, it’s been more than once) and asked by companions to describe the type of music that Tricky was. In one of my less articulate moments and without thought, my answer: it’s like, music to fuck to.

It’s kinda apt and it stuck. So, here’s my rough guide to Tricky and 10 tracks:

1995-98 The Martina Years

A lot of Tricky’s sexiest and by far the best music comes from this period. Maxinquaye (1995) Nearly God (1996) Pre-Millennial Tension (1996) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1998) can be listened to, in part, as an intimate account of the turbulent relationship between Tricky and Martina, which lurches from deep, soul-quenching satisfaction to icy contempt and hatred.

Martina Topley-Bird has one of the most outstanding voices I have ever heard, a haunting mix of scary strength and broken vulnerability. More often than not it is Martina who does the singing, while Tricky’s voice skulks in the background of tracks, gutturally growling the same words as Martina, but a moment out-of-time. The title of the first track that I’m going to share kinda speaks for itself, from Maxinquaye, Suffocated Love:

Also taken from Maxinquaye, Abbaon Fat Tracks, which contains the somewhat sinister lyrics: ‘I fuck you in the ass, just for a laugh/
With the quick speed, I’ll make your nose bleed’

Taken from Nearly God, You promised me ‘Poems’:

Taken from pre-millennial Tension, Makes Me Wanna Die is one of the most unsettling and yet beautiful songs that I have ever heard. At it’s core, it is simply Martina singing Tricky’s deepest and darkest feelings about her. There is no way you can tell that story and it sound anything other than horrific and it is, in a way, listening to it is uncomfortably voyeuristic but it still feels…Romantic and filled with longing:

From 1998’s Angel with Dirty Faces, the last studio album that Tricky worked on with Martina, the track Talk to Me (Angels with Dirty Faces). Interesting as Tricky’s and Martina’s vocals seem a lot more fragmented, mirroring the distance growing between them in reality, but this track is no less full of longing and lust:

1999 – Present: Post Martina Years

It can hardly come as much of a surprise that Tricky and Martina eventually parted company, both professionally and personally. Initially, music journalists were keen to write Tricky off, reasoning that they had always seen Tricky as a duo with Martina and no more Martina could only mean no more Tricky. This was not the case and in 1999, with relative unknown female vocalist Kioka Williams in tow, Tricky released his fifth studio album Juxtapose with credit to DJ Muggs and Grease.

Since juxtapose, tricky has found several other female muses for his dark love poems and released Blowback (2001), Vulnerable (2003), Knowle West Boy (2008) and Mixed Race (2010). While his output has continued to be adept, sexy, diverse and interesting, later offerings have fallen just short of earlier work featuring Martina Topley-Bird’s Vocals.

Here are some of my favourites:

If ever I accidentally pull my headphone jack out of my phone during my commute, treating my fellow bus passengers to my music, you can guarantee this track is playing. Very, very rude and best described as a 16 year adolescent’s fantasy, taken from Juxtapose, I like the Girls:

By Tricky’s standards, Blowback (2001) was intended to be a much happier album and it was hoped, thanks to some rather impressive collaborations and a more upbeat tone, it would get both more airtime and chart higher than his previous albums…it did not, but still has some brilliant track on it, my favourite being Evolution, Revolution Love:

In 2003, Tricky released Vulnerable which was titled such, by his own admission, because ‘it’s my most honest and open record. On this album, I’ve stopped hiding, and I’m allowing people to see different sides of the real me.’ Vocals throughout are provided by Italian Singer Costanza Francavilla, a long time fan of Tricky who approached the singer after a gig in Rome. Vulnerable remains one of my favourite albums and doesn’t contain anything that could reasonably be described as filler. My two favourite tracks, however are the cover of The Cure’s Lovecats, which Tricky skillfully makes sexier than the original and this track – Wait for God:

Tricky’s collaboration with Costanza only lasted for a single album and 2008’s Knowle West Boy was notable for not having the strong reliance on a female vocalist. The track Puppy Toy, the third single from the album, is pure sex-on-toast:

Tricky’s latest album, Mixed Race (2010), for this fan, is as close as Tricky has come to the sheer brilliance of Maxinquaye. Once again, there is no featured female vocalist; Tricky is fully out from the shadows, where he has lurked and stalked, for so many of his albums. My final track to share is Come to Me:

Listen to some more of my thoughts on music and the evocation of memory.

Well if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others.


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