by Michael Goldberg
Monday July 2, 2001
Tricky Gets It Right
Blowback walks the line between totally accessible and totally cool
Ever since Sly Stone, leading his band Sly and the Family Stone, unleashed a new kind of joyful funk-rock-soul on the world back in the '60s, subsequently got heavy in another way and gave us the amazing There's a Riot Goin' On and then destroyed his career and life with drugs, the search has been on for the "new Sly."
Periodically, over the years, a contender has come along. George Clinton? Rick James? Prince? Each, to a greater or lesser extent, came through. Clinton, of course, with Parliament and Funkadelic may have trumped Sly with the quality and quantity of his work. Prince, well, needs no introduction. Again, in quite a different way, one could argue that his body of recordings and sheer genius put him on another level, even, than Sly. And while Rick James ultimately disappointed in many ways, his Street Songs remains a classic work.
When Tricky appeared in 1995 with Maxinquaye, it looked like Bristol, England was the unlikely location of the long awaited "new Sly." Tricky had all the right moves down. He was a brilliant writer, singer and producer. And his sound - funky, soulful, with fresh beats and fresh attitude -- wasn't quite like anything we'd heard before. One problem: in the U.S. at least, he wasn't a commercial score.
First You Have A Hit, Then You Get Arty
Now the reason lack of commercial success was a problem for Tricky is this: in order to be the "new Sly," you've first got to sell millions of albums, then go arty and esoteric on us. If you're lucky, the audience will follow. If not, at least you get proclaimed an even greater genius than when your music was selling.
For Tricky, though, it appears that he confused the acclaim he got for Maxinquaye with popular success. And like some other artists who did top the charts (Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder), he ran from it. Albums and Eps such as 1996's Nearly God and 1996's Pre-Millennium Tension were extreme works that brought Tricky even further from the mainstream. Which he now says was his intention.
"I know people have been waiting for me to make this album," he is quoted as saying in the press release that accompanied the promotional mailing of his brilliant new album, Blowback. "But I was like 'fuck off, I'm not giving people what they want.' All my other albums since Maxinquaye were saying 'fuck you.' I was making records deliberately so they wouldn't get on the radio. It was 'fuck everything - whatever you like I'm going to make the opposite kind of album.' "
His personal life and ego went way into the red. "I had a lot of problems - depression, mood swings, temper tantrums," he said. "Someone would get my room service order wrong and I'd smash up the room. I've had a mad couple of years and the people around me have found it very difficult... It's astonishing how dark your life can get without you even noticing. It slips and slips further away."
Blowback successfully walks the line between totally accessible and totally cool. This is challenging, innovative music that pulls all kinds of diverse influences into a coherent sound.
It's more than just a creative revelation. It appears that Tricky has returned to earth, and he's surrounded himself with the kind of heavy hitters in the music business that he deserves. His new manager is none other than Chris Blackwell, the man who founded Island Records, helped turn Bob Marley and U2 into international stars and has been involved with real talent for decades. Blowback is on Hollywood Records, whose president is former Prince/ Earth Wind and Fire manager Bob Cavallo, and helping out with production on a few tracks is Bob's son Rob, known for producing hit albums for Green Day.
This is an album whose sound will envelop you. The opening track, "Excess" a is just totally over the top -- freaky orchestrated funk piece that could have been masterminded by Motown's Norman (Temptations) Whitfield. The groove will hook ya, as well Tricky's hoarse, smoky vocal alternating on the verses with Alanis Morissette (who co-wrote it with Tricky), that among other things demands: "Keep living!"
On other tracks Tricky is creating a new music that mixes dance hall rapping, orchestral pop, funk and rock (did the guitar work of Marty Rifkin on "Evolution Revolution Love"). The hard Jamaican vibe of "Over Me" is broken by a melodious Caribbean pop chorus: "When love is lost all I hear are gunshots over me," sings the female vocalist Ambersunshower. And then - pow! - "Girls" with vocal help from Anthony Kiedes and John Frusciante's Hendrixian guitars is a blast of Chili Peppers-style funk-rock. And that's just the first four songs of a 13-song album that lever lets down.
Blowback is the kind of album that you can't stop playing. It's been in my CD player (with a second copy in my car) for days now - I just can't get enough of it. It's reassuring that a talent as great as Tricky can come back from the dark side, pull things together and make what sounds like his most ambitious and creative statement yet. Sometimes there is light at the end of the tunnel.