In 1995, Tricky was known mainly for his featuring-vocals on Massive Attack’s albums. And then he released the album which would become NME’s Record of the Year, was nominated for the Mercury Prize and subject to more critical and commercial acclaim than anyone could have anticipated.
Such unexpected levels of praise leave an album in danger of being filed under ‘overrated disappointment’. What’s truly impressive about this album is that it fully deserves the recognition it receives. Even listeners that don’t enjoy the distinctly melancholic and mysterious sound with which Tricky is associated will be able to appreciate the multi-layered complexity of every single track.
Maxinquaye is in many ways the first album to fully realise the potential of the early Bristol Sound; a sound which evolved from the bold cutting and mixing traditions of its Hip Hop predecessors. So often, attempts at genre fusion result in the creation of awkward hybrids with pretentious names and even worse songs. Maxinquaye is a prime example of the ingenuity of Trip Hop artists who were able to avoid these particular pitfalls.
In fact, it draws on and pays homage to so many genres that it shouldn’t work. But somewhere between the whispered lyrics, Public Enemy cover and Smashing Pumpkins sample, Tricky makes his own sound; an entirely coherent auditory atmosphere. And don’t confuse atmospheric with easy listening. Maxinquaye is almost aggressively languorous, immersive and hedonistic.
This album doesn’t sound like it was made 15 years ago. In fact, it doesn’t really call upon any particular era. It is instead an album that evokes some unknown place; a place that’s probably amoral, visceral and almost certainly dangerous. Listening to this album makes you wonder how Trip-Hop was ever relegated to the role of background music in ‘gritty’ melodramas and adverts. Maxinquaye deserves your full attention; it is absolutely music made for headphones.