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Tricky: Maxinquaye (2009 deluxe edition)

October 18, 2011

Roll: 5-7-8
Album: Tricky, Maxinquaye (deluxe edition)

For most albums I’d consider personal life-altering classics, I have concrete memories of when I first heard them. Nevermind on the radio in my bedroom, Margin Walker on someone’s boombox on the school bus, Doolittle at my friend Keith’s. Like people knowing exactly where they were when they heard Kennedy/Lady Di/Steve Jobs died, these are events that are seared permanently into my memory.

I have absolutely no recollection of when I first heard Maxinquaye.

I know it was some time after the release of Portishead‘s Dummy in 1994 when I’d jumped on the trip-hop bandwagon with everyone else. The only solid memory of the album I have is listening to it in the car, driving past a small-town movie theatre that may have already been turned into a parking lot, and thinking Public Enemy‘s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” was an odd, but brilliant, song to cover. I might have just read about Tricky in an article about Portishead or something and bought it sound-unheard. Perhaps that car-ride in 1995 was my first exposure.

If so, it would have been fitting. Like many beach side towns on Vancouver Island in the mid-90s, Parksville was struggling through the transition from relying on the once booming fishing and timber industries to figuring out how to squeeze a year’s worth of livelihood out of tourists in the summer months. The minimal, nihilistic groove of songs like  “Overcome”, “Ponderosa” and “Aftermath” would have been the perfect soundtrack for cruising past crumbling strip malls to the giant marzipan structures at Paradise Mini-Golf. The music is as paranoid, pessimistic and cynical as many of us who grew up in the area felt about our prospects.

Which could be said for a lot of the music released in the mid-90s. If a band wasn’t wearing an obvious Nine Inch Nails devotion on their sleeve, the taint of Nirvana and Pixies was still on everything in the musical landscape. What sets Maxinquaye apart from most of the wilfully bleak, industrial-tinged rock and alternative electronica of the era is how well it’s weathered.

Massive Attack’s and NIN’s records from just the previous year sound painfully of their time but Tricky managed to hit on the right combination of classic samples and stripped-down, timeless production just outside of the status quo to remain a unique statement over a decade and a half later.

For a record that so helped define trip-hop, Maxinquaye was never truly replicated. Other producers may have borrowed the shuffling hip-hop beats and languid vocal delivery but they left out the woozy psychedelia and off-kilter tonality. Then they sanded and buffed all the rough edges off until trip-hop was practically indistinguishable from easy listening lounge music. It’s the same audience-chasing trap Tricky himself falls into with his later albums which sound cripplingly dated just a few years after release, if not right out of the gate. That is, if you can get past how utterly boring they are and listen to them at all.

No matter much he’s fallen off in recent years, it would be hard to make a case that Tricky’s solo debut isn’t essential listening for anyone the least bit interested in the evolution of contemporary pop-music. Along with the two previous records he did with Massive Attack, Maxinquaye is too influential to ignore. But is the additional material on the Deluxe  Edition worth the effort?

Frankly, it’s a package for completists and fans. Nothing on the bonus disc isn’t a demo, rough mix or remix of an album cut (even “Slick 66” ends up on Nearly God as “Children’s Story”). Repetition isn’t too much of a problem, though “Overcome” and “Black Steel” each get three additional versions. The guitar-heavy “Been Caught Steeling” punk  mix of “Black Steel” is divergent enough but, like all the remixes here, falls prey to exactly the danger the album itself managed to avoid. Aside from the delightfully raw and dubby—yet semi-dubious—”Rough Monitor” mixes, everything sounds pretty dated.

What’s really odd, if not outright disappointing, is the exclusion of the Gravediggaz collaborations from The Hell EP, “Psychosis” and “Tonight is a Special Night”. Both b-sides would have been far more appreciated than three  rather dire, and ultimately pointless, 2009 remixes tacked on the end of disc two.

Still, for devotees of the original album, it’s a more fascinating (and listenable) “making of” document than a lot of similar deluxe editions.

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