Island Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


For awhile, I believed what my uncles and aunts told me. "Your generation is becoming numb to violence and thrives on shock value". We've gone from "The Simpsons" to "Beavis and Butthead" and now, "South Park". And to everyone in their late 20s and early 30s, how can you imagine your kids offending you if you like Marilyn Manson or have ever listened to the Notorious B.I.G.'s album, Ready To Die?

Perceptions can change very quickly though. Though the '60s had "The Flinstones" instead of "The Simpsons", they also had their share of renegades, from R. Crumb to Timothy Leary. And, all it took was one listen to Tricky's magnificent first album, Maxinquaye, to realize that I still can be disturbed. The lyrics may be dark, but the musicianship of the entire album has the ability to sooth you and chill you. Imagine watching "Dead Ringers" for the first time under some heavy cough medication and you'll get a feel of what it's like listening to Maxinquaye for the first time.

For trip-hop fans, Tricky laid the foundations to one of the most influential bands of the 1990s:Massive Attack. His innovative skills run all over in Maxinquaye, an album named after his mother. Many of his beats sound like shallow breathing, tying in perfectly with the claustropobic imagery created in "Overcome". His vocal skills are a tad weaker. His rasp is gripping, but it is ultimately limited in range. Call it the Puff Daddy complex: great producer, mediocre voice.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Thankfully, Tricky has Martine. Her soulful voice was initially discovered when she sang for Tricky's roommate while they proceeded to smoke some pot. She makes an entrance that's hard to forget on "Overcome". In an airy, deatched voice, she mumbles, "When we fuck we'll hear beats".

When Martine wakes up from her calm, stoney delivery, she is deadly. On "Black Steel", a cover of the Public Enemy song, "Black Steel In Our Hour Of Chaos", Martine keeps repeating the chorus over an intense, throbbing beat that often sways into heavy metal. In "Brand New You're Retro", Martine steps in as Tricky sings a song that borderlines on gangsta posturing. When she enters the song, the song is elevated to a much higher level.

Place Martine right up there with PJ Harvey, Liz Phair and Bjork for innovative female artists that have rehsaped music in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Martine and Tricky are no longer a couple. Her lack of presence on Tricky's next album, Pre-Millenium Tension ultimately hurt the album. Note for Tricky: watch Martine, she could very easily go solo right now, and if she does, she'll put out a killer album.

For sheer balance, Maxinquaye stands as one of the best albums of the '90s. "Black Steel" and "Suffocated Love" are both lovely and catchy in a dirty sounding sort of way. "Brand New You're Retro" steals the bass line off of Michael Jackson's song, "Bad" and gives it a life onto its own, infinitely better than the Michael Jackson original.

The other songs you'll just have to let seep in with repeated listens. In "Strugglin'", the base beat seems to be coming out of a gun being loaded. In "Hell Is Around The Corner", a kitchen sink like beat reminds you of noir hop bands such as Portishead. Not exactly trip-hop, not rap and definitely not r&b, Maxinquaye is a weird experiement that works by getting under your skin listen after listen.

The album ends with the elegant, "Feed Me". Martine softly sings one of the most profound lines of the album, "The dream of yesterday/becomes another lie" on this track. For an album that essentially has no rules or boundaries, "Feed Me" serves as an appropriate closer. Maxinquaye is not fit for most listeners. But Tricky has made a thorougly challenging piece of music. Kick back, have a glass of wine and if you dare, turn the lights out while playing Maxinquaye. Proof that music doesn't have to be vulgar or lacerating to give you chills.


Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.