Steeped in the studio sorcery of dub and hip-hop, TRICKY is as much a part of England’s art-rock continuum as he is a British B-boy. One way of thinking of Maxinquaye is as Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure remodeled as an accounting of the costs of the UK’s recreational drug culture. Tricky makes his own travails with alcohol, ganja, and other “cheap thrills” emblematic of a generation able to find its provisional utopias only through self-poisoning. From the polluted stream-of-consciousness lyrics to the smeary, maculate textures and wraithlike melodies, Tricky transforms inner chaos and cultural entropy into picturesque soundscapes—like “Strugglin” (Public Enemy minus the dream of a Black Nation), like “Aftermath” (Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” meets The Specials’ “Ghost Town”), like “Abbaon Fat Tracks” (how “There’s a Riot Going On” might have sounded, had Sly Stone used a sampler).
Tricky is the sharpest, cruelest poet of England’s political unconscious since the John Lydon of PiL’s “Metal Box.” In place of the slogans, redemptive exhortations, and case studies perpetrated in the name of “political pop,” Tricky simply lets the contamination and corruption speak for itself, in its own vernacular: paranoia (“mystical shadows fraught with no meaning”), implosive rage (“my brain thinks bomblike”), and exile (“raised in this place, now concrete is my religion”). Perhaps his most poignant poem of all is “Maxinquaye” itself, his personal word for Zion, for paradise lost. Maxine is his mother, who died when Tricky was four; the Quaye are an African tribe. As for Tricky, he’s sorrow’s native son.
Spoilt for choice here, as ever. There are many contenders: BLUR’s “The Great Escape”; GUIDED BY VOICES’ double whammy of “Alien Lanes” and the four-CD box of unreleased albums; SILVERCHAIR’s “Frogstomp” and PAUL WELLER’s “Stanley Road ”; the wholesome Everyman rock of HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH’s “Cracked Rear View.” But 1995’s most nauseating moments ultimately belong to MICHAEL JACKSON’s “You Are Not Alone”—not so much for the song, sickly as it is, but for the cringe-making video, with its staged seminude scenes of “marital intimacy” ’tween Wacko and Lisa Marie, and for the appalling spectacle of Michael’s bared and bleached chest, hairless and withered like a teenager with premature aging syndrome.