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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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Memory through Music

22 Nov

I was inspired to write this post by Jules Jackson who wrote a brilliant post called The Soundtrack to Your Life, which I’d recommend that you read…

Despite a total lack of any musical talent (anyone who has heard me singing in the shower can attest to my total inability to carry any form of tune) music has always played a huge part in my life and I find it one of the greatest evocations of memory.

Here are ten memories and the associated soundtrack:

I’m 8 and we are going away to Cornwall in the caravan; it’s the first time I can remember my Dad treating us to his tastes in music. He sings along, capable of carrying a tune and sometimes Mum chips in too; she sings a line here, a chorus there. We listen to the Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, Cat Stevens, The Carpenters…I remember Follow the Sun by The Beatles most of all: hopeful but sad and a taste like Werther’s Original.

I’m a little older, maybe 10; we’re going away in the caravan again and I’m allowed to sit in the front seat next to my Dad, who is driving. Mum and little brother, Rob, sit in the back. Roy Orbison is Mum’s choice, one of her favourites. There is the repeated refrain ‘Mercy’ at the end of verses and, each time, Mum tickles my ears, which makes me giggle…we all laugh.

It’s 1996 and I’m 14; this is my favourite track from the first music album that I ever buy, the debut, self-titled, album from Savage Garden. I listen to it constantly for months, it’s exciting and it’s mine. Years later I will still remember this feeling each time I buy a new album.

It is 1999 and I’m 17; I’m in the Gatecrasher Superclub in Sheffield. My hair is long, but gelled into hugely improbable spikes and I have swirling patterns made from dots of UV paint all over my face. People have travelled from all around the country (and some much further) to be here on a Saturday night. It feels like being a part of something amazing, a huge mass of people intent on nothing more than dancing and having a good time. This track is playing and a man I’ve never met before tells me he loves my hair, we exchange a sweaty hug and he dances off into the near-dark, grinning broadly. I grin too.

It’s 2001 and I’m 19; I’m at the University of Warwick studying for my degree, the serendipity of chance leads me to meet a fellow student who plays me this track, I’m enthralled, want to hear more and so begins a love of Trip-hop and especially Tricky. The student’s name is William Snow, we spend hours-on-end chatting and laughing together. Neither of us know it, but the future will see us become the dearest of friends; he is Best Man at my wedding, my thousandth man, as Solomon says.

It’s 2002, I’m 20 and the time is 5am; Will and I are walking back to our summer home, across the exposed Gannel Estuary after a night in Newquay’s clubs and beach parties. We are both intoxicated, giggling, silly as we stumble across stones and wet sand sharing stories and secrets like gold and jewels. We start singing this track by Roots Manuva, alternating a line each, until we have finished when we begin again. Before turning in we agree it’s some of our best work, we laugh; we both have work in 3 hours, but it does not matter.

It’s 2004 and I am 23; I’m at a bar with friends when I first see her. It is like I have never seen another human before, I stare, I can’t look away. My friends are talking to me, but I don’t hear, they have faded away and it is just me and her. She comes over to speak to me and it’s exciting but familiar. One day this vision of beauty, spotted in a bar, will be my wife. From the beginning she is the reason I wake up happy, she is my friend and companion, lover and confidant, she is the radiant light melting the frosty dawn and I love her eternally.

It’s 2005 and I’m 24; we are in the church in the village of Wales where I grew up and we are surrounded by all our friends and family. Everyone is sorry, everyone is tearful, we are all gathered there to say goodbye to my Mum, Jaki, who has lost her short battle with Pancreatic cancer. I am touched by the sea of faces that occupy every single pew, that lined the side of the church when the seats ran out. Eva Cassidy sings Fields of Gold and I finally crumple, cry against my family. I am afraid that the tears won’t stop, I come to learn that they don’t, they only slow as the happy memories return. I miss my Mum.

It’s 2006 and I’m 25; we are surrounded by our friends and family again, this time the circumstances are much happier. It is our wedding day, it is the happiest day of my life so far, we are dancing our first dance to James Blunt’s Your Beautiful and I am carefully avoiding treading on Lara’s feet. At the end of the dance, she smiles at me and it’s amazing; I know I will carry that smile down the ages, that it will light my darknesses and warm my nights. I am content.

It’s 2011 and I’m 3 days away from my 30th Birthday; Mos Def’s Umi Says is playing on my laptop as I write this blog. I have never grown tired of this song since it was first played to me and it never ceases to make me smile. I’m smiling now, remembering and smiling.

So, now to finish, just like Jules:

So what I would like to know is:  What is the soundtrack to your life or your life?

We all have them so share…

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