Influential Bristolian hip-hopper, given to bouts of genius, as well as unlistenable self-indulgence.
Tricky, real name Adrian Thaws, was born in Bristol on 27th January, 1968. By the time he was born, his father had left the family, and at the age of 4 his mother died, leaving his grandmother to bring him up. His childhood was spent in the Bristol area of Knowle West, an overwhelmingly white area known for its violence, car crime and heroin problems.
As a teenager he was writing lyrics, and ended up falling in with The Wild Bunch crew, who were playing soundsystems in the city. The Wild Bunch evolved to become Massive Attack, and Tricky Kid as he was now known, wrote and rapped on Massive's Blue Lines album, which became known as one of the most influential albums of the decade. Although never signed as part of the band, Tricky again appeared on two tracks on Massive Attack's second album, Protection.
Around this time he met his main vocalist, and mother of his child, Martina Topley-Bird. The story of how they met is apocryphal, but anyone who has met Tricky would agree that it is in character. Martina, aged 16 at this time, was attending the exclusive Clifton College school, and was drinking cider while sitting on a wall near the school grounds. Tricky, walking by and seeing a pretty girl, chats her up, and the rest is history.
Tricky records a track with Martina, who is a hugely talented singer, but after receiving little interest from Massive Attack in the track, and as well as a general bitterness towards the Bristol music scene, decides to persue a solo career in London. He pressed Aftermath as a white label, directly from the promo tape he was hawking around town.
The buzz generated by the 500 copies of this lead to him being signed to Island Records, in an unusual deal that allows him to record with other labels under pseudonyms.
His first, and easily his best album, was released in 1995. Called Maxinquaye after his mother Maxine Quaye, it was an unclassifiable mix of paranoid lyrics, dirty beats, messy samples, and Martina's beautiful vocals. This unlikely combination produced a masterpiece, that was a huge success, both critically and commercially, entering at number 2 in the UK Album Chart. Acclaimed as truly groundbreaking, and an album of the year, it is of a consistently great standard that he never quite managed to match again.
Two of the tracks on the album, Overcome and Hell is Round the Corner, were reworkings of Karmacoma and Eurochild respectively, the tracks Tricky worked on on Protection. The latter also featured a prominant sample of Ike's Rap II, which was also the basis for Portishead's Glory Box around the same time. This caused more tension at the time, as Tricky has worked with Geoff Barrow from Portishead on a few projects, although it is likely they both just shared common influences, being immersed in the same music scene. Tricky once said that the most insulting thing had said about him was, "that I sound like Portishead". He doesn't.
The album also includes Alison Goldfrapp on Pumpkin, a track named after the Smashing Pumpkins sample that appears on it. Tricky said that they shouldn't take it as a compliment, as he did it after seeing them live and wanting to take the piss.
He soon split up with Martina, and started seeing Björk, causing trouble with her former partner Goldie. He then produced two of the tracks on Björk's Post album.
His later albums are highly variable in quality. Nearly God was the pseudonym he used for an album of collabarations with people such as Terry Hall (Poems: good), Björk (Yoga: poor) and Alison Moyet (painfully bad). Even so, the two tracks he did with Martina were the best on the album, particularly Black Coffee. This was released on Tricky's own label, called Durban Poison after a kind of weed.
Pre-Millennium Tension, Tricky's second official album, was meant to be punk rock, but is almost unlistenable. Tricky admits that one of the main reasons he made this album was to give him some fast, aggressive tracks to play live. Tricky Kid is the stand-out track on the album, a bitter, mocking rant against his former friends in Bristol.
Around this time, Tricky appeared in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, an experience he describes as boring, and gave a performance we could describe as crap.
Tricky then decided to move to New York, and also released his third official album: Angels with Dirty Faces. This, while better than Pre Millenium Tension, is still self-indulgent and lazy in production, though as usual, Tricky manages to slip a few good tracks in.
Juxtapose was an attempt to make a more hip-hop oriented album, and was a collabaration with DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill and several others. While there are some good tracks on the album, Tricky has since apologised for it, and admitted he hates it. Dismal sales for the album lead to him leaving Island for Epitaph Records.
Tricky's latest album, Blowback, is somewhat of a return to form. He himself describes it as feeling like the beginning of his career again, and it is a lot more accessible, listenable music. He has collabarated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morissette and Cyndi Lauper on the album, and it is a lot better produced and much less sketchy vocals than some of his other work.
The trouble he seems to have is that although he has many outstanding tracks, he releases too many albums. If he were to be more brutal with his choice of tracks and picked fewer, his albums would be a lot better, IMCO. Personally, I'd say there is enough material on Pre-Millennium Tension, Angels with Dirty Faces and Juxtapose to make one very good album, which would be so much better than three patchy ones.
- Maxinquaye - 1995
- Nearly God (as Nearly God) - 1996
- Pre-Millennium Tension - 1996
- Angels With Dirty Faces - 1998
- Juxtapose - 1999
- Blowback - 2001
- A Ruff Guide - 2002
Update November 2002 This could quite possibly be the answer to the wish I made at the end of this writeup. It's a best-of album, with the highlights of his work at Island. It seems (I haven't listened to it yet, just seen the listing) to succeed in picking the pearls from the muck of his his late 90s output, and mixes it with a good selection from his masterwork. Seems a good buy if you don't already own the other albums. I may make my own compilation based on this, using the albums I have. If I do this, I may leave off tracks from Maxinquaye, as i still feel that album stands on its own.
Discography and notes from moon-palace.de/tricky
all other details from me and my friends ;-)