Tricky – Maxinquaye (Island, 1995)

Tricky, Maxinquaye (Island) 10

It’s easy to see why Tricky so despised the reductionist “Trip Hop” label. While it may have sufficiently defined the idea-deficient ambient wallpaper of misguided late-90s Tricky plagiarists, the shapeshifting Maxinquaye is an entirely different beast. During Tricky’s tenure in Massive Attack, he helped pioneer a new fusion of hip-hop, soul and dub reggae. Yet it did little to prepare for the shocking sense of new in Maxinquaye. It’s a complex dialogue between technological sensuality and human sexuality, one in which it’s ambiguous which side possesses more soul. On one hand, the music starts out at ground zero in the politically cynical, burned/spliffed-out, stripped-down electro-funk of Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, layers in the astral dub of Augustus Pablo, and slows down Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad into a stop-motion sci-fi animation and techno voodoo.

It’s difficult to immediately peg the meaning of Tricky and Martina’s mumbo jumbo lyrics, and like Ishmael Reed, the improvised language forces the audience to reckon with the meaning on Tricky’s terms. In “Aftermath,” he samples both a replicant in Blade Runner and Japan’s “Ghosts” for a pinnacle future-shockingly sexy moment. Here the human element, the sexuality, is blurry and ambiguous — more My Bloody Valentine than Prince, more Kate Bush than hip-hop. “Hell Is Round The Corner” offers glimpses of Tricky’s m.o. — his narrative voice ebbing and flowing in time, space and multiple identities — “Confused by different memories/Details of Asian remedies/Conversations, of what’s become of enemies/My brain thinks bomb-like/So I listen he’s a calm type/And as I grow, I grow collective” “Pumpkin” transcends any contextual meaning and simply floats ethereal more effectively than anything by the Cocteau Twins.

Hallucinatory (“Abbaon Fat Tracks”), woozy (“Feed Me”) and nearly exuberant (“Suffocated Love”), nearly every song is an original masterpiece. With his first solo album, Tricky has already earned himself a place in the pantheon of Afro-alien shaman alongside Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Exuma and George Clinton. And like the spells of any self-respecting trickster deity, no one has yet to crack and decipher Maxinquaye’s mysterious secrets, let alone Tricky himself. Which is why it still continues to unfold its erotic, frightening spell to new listeners, and remains the best album of the 90s.

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