Maxinquaye

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Maxinquaye
Tricky - Maxinquaye.jpg
Studio album by Tricky
Released 20 February 1995 (1995-02-20)
Recorded 1994
Studio Tricky's home studio, Loveshack Studios, and Eastcote Studios in London
Genre Trip hop, R&B
Length 57:13
Label 4th & B'way
Producer Howie B, Kevin Petrie, Mark Saunders, Tricky
Tricky chronology
Maxinquaye
(1995)
Nearly God
(1996)

Maxinquaye is the debut album by English recording artist and producer Tricky. He recorded the album with his then-girlfriend, vocalist Martina Topley-Bird, who sang on most of the songs with him. Tricky produced the album mostly himself at his home studio in London, with the assistance of co-producer Mark Saunders.

When Maxinquaye was released on 20 February 1995 by 4th & B'way Records, it charted at number three in the United Kingdom and received widespread acclaim from critics, many of whom hailed it as the year's best record. It was also viewed as the key album of a musical style that was being dubbed trip hop, a term Tricky himself disliked. Since then, Maxinquaye has been ranked frequently on all-time lists of the greatest albums and has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide.

Background[edit]

Tricky, pictured in 2008

After a troubled upbringing in the Knowle West neighborhood of Bristol, Tricky became involved with an eclectic collective of DJs and musicians known as The Wild Bunch during the late 1980s.[1] As part of the collective, he helped arrange sound systems around Bristol's club scene and penned raps under a stage name derived from "Tricky Kid", which was the nickname given to him in a street gang as a youth.[2] The Wild Bunch signed a record deal with 4th & B'way Records and released two singles but failed to make a commercial impact because of what label director Julian Palmer felt was a sound too experimental and slow for most listeners. The collective dissolved in 1989, but would eventually lead to the formation of the trip hop group Massive Attack, with Tricky a frequent collaborator.[3]

In 1993, Tricky discovered Martina Topley-Bird, then a teenager at Clifton College, when he saw her sitting on a wall near his house, singing to herself.[4] "That's really how it happened," she recalled. "It's one of those things people are always surprised to find out is true. I remember the graveyard behind the wall. A few weeks later, I went around to his house with some friends. We'd been drinking cider after our GCSEs. We were banging on his door, but he wasn't in. Then Mark Stewart, who lived there, came up to us and said: 'Yeah, this is Tricky's house, jump in through the window.'"[5] Tricky and Topley-Bird would form a musical and romantic partnership over subsequent years, starting with their first recording together, "Aftermath". After offering the song to Massive Attack, who were not interested in including it on their 1991 album Blue Lines, Tricky released "Aftermath" independently to local record stores in September 1993 before he signed a record deal with 4th & Broadway.[6]

Recording and production[edit]

Martina Topley-Bird (pictured in 2010) sang on most of Maxinquaye with Tricky.

Tricky chose Mark Saunders as co-producer of Maxinquaye after being impressed by his previous work with The Cure on the albums Mixed Up (1990) and Wish (1992). He and Saunders recorded the album in the first half of 1994 at Tricky's home studio, with additional recording later done at the Loveshack and Eastcote studios in Notting Hill, London.[7] The recording sessions were somewhat chaotic, and Saunders, who had the impression that he would serve as an engineer, frequently found himself serving as a DJ and programmer. Tricky frequently instructed him on what to sample, regardless of different tempos and pitches, and asked him to piece the result together, something Saunders achieved by pitch-shifting the respective samples.[8] Additionally, almost all of Topley-Bird's vocals on the album were recorded in a single take. In describing the recording sessions, she recalled, "It was totally instinctive. There was no time to drum up an alter ego."[5] The liner notes credited Tricky and Topley-Bird for vocals on all songs except "Pumpkin" and "You Don't", which Tricky sang with Alison Goldfrapp and Ragga, respectively.[9]

Various contributors were occasionally called in to play instruments for Maxinquaye, including guitarist James Stevenson, bassist Pete Briquette, and the band FTV (on "Black Steel"). The producer Saunders contributed guitar himself, with the resulting improvisations treated as samples.[7] According to American critic Robert Christgau, Maxinquaye's groove-oriented and low-tempo music drew on lo-fi, dub, ambient techno, and hip hop sounds, while James Hunter from Rolling Stone said Tricky subsumed American hip hop, soul, reggae, and 1980s English rock sounds into "a mercurial style of dance music".[10] Entertainment Weekly critic David Browne classified the record's music as an intellectual form of R&B.[11]

Tricky explained Maxinquaye's title in an interview with Simon Reynolds: "Quaye, that's this race of people in Africa, and 'Maxin,' that's my mum's name, Maxine, and I've just taken the E off". In another source, he was reported as saying Quaye had also been his mother's surname.[12] According to Greg Kot, his mother's name provided the album its title while her suicide, along with his father's abandonment and Tricky's lack of moral sense as a youth, helped inform his "unsentimental grasp on reality", which was reflected in Maxinquaye's "collision of beauty and violence".[13] In the opinion of Stylus Magazine's Kenan Hebert, who called it "a document of obsession, and mistrust, and misconduct, and solipsism, and sociopathy", the songs dealing with a dysfunctional sexual relationship and fear of intimacy were given a Freudian angle by his mother's influence on the album, including Tricky's reference to her on "Aftermath".[14] In an interview for The Wire, Tricky explained her influence on his music and his use of female vocalists such as Topley-Bird to sing his songs:

My first lyric ever on a song was 'your eyes resemble mine, you'll see as no others can'. I didn't have any kids then ... so what am I talking about? Who am I talking about? My mother. My mother, I found out when I was making a documentary, used to write poetry but in her time she couldn't have done anything with that, there wasn't any opportunity. It’s almost like she killed herself to give me the opportunity, my lyrics. I can never understand why I write as a female, I think I've got my mum's talent, I'm her vehicle. So I need a woman to sing that.[15]

A printing error mistakenly credited the then-unknown Topley-Bird as "Martine" on Maxinquaye. Of her role on the album, she later said "I liked the idea that the information people needed about me was what they would hear when they put the record on. Anything else was sort of extraneous. I didn't think there was anything in my biography that would explain my musical choices."[5]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[16]
Chicago Tribune 3.5/4 stars[17]
Christgau's Record Guide A+[18]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[19]
Entertainment Weekly A[11]
The Observer 5/5 stars[20]
Q 5/5 stars[21]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[22]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[23]
Spin 8/10[24]

After Tricky was signed by 4th & Broadway, the record label reissued "Aftermath" in January 1994 and released "Ponderosa" in April to promote Maxinquaye.[25] The following year, three more singles were released—"Overcome" in January, "Black Steel" in March, and "Pumpkin" in November. The label also released a four-track EP entitled The Hell E.P. in July, which featured "Hell Is Round the Corner" and reached number 12 on the UK Singles Chart.[26] Although hip hop records in the United Kingdom had received exposure through dance music dealers and press, 4th & Broadway relied on independent record promoters and Tricky's cover story in NME to promote the album. According to Palmer, the UK's demographic of young music buyers such as students was more progressive than in the United States, where he said the record would have to be marketed differently. He believed that much like Portishead, a contemporary trip hop act, Tricky would have received airplay in the US on alternative or college rock radio: "Some people I've met were confused because he's black, and it's not easy to break through those barriers there."[27]

Maxinquaye was released on 20 February 1995 by 4th & Broadway and received widespread critical acclaim.[27] According to English writer Colin Larkin, the record was hailed by critics as the pivotal release in what they were calling "trip hop" music, along with Massive Attack's 1991 album Blue Lines, although Tricky himself disliked the term.[28] In The Village Voice, Christgau praised the songs as spectacular aural displays of "someone who's signed on to work for the wages of sin and lived to cash the check". He deemed the record dystopian, highlighted by Topley-Bird's singing, and a deviation from the more optimistic Black British dance music of trip hop's roots, from Soul II Soul and Massive Attack "to a bad place you should take a chance and visit: Depressive, constricted, phantasmagoric, industrial, yet warmly beatwise and swathed in a gauzy glow that promises untold creature comforts".[29] In a retrospective review for Stylus Magazine, Hebert argued that "there's too much here to be sequestered to any genre, let alone that one ... Calling Tricky 'trip-hop' is a bit like calling Prince 'pop.' It's partially accurate, but the music is so much better than that."[14] Record Collector critic Jason Draper later called Maxinquaye "the British postmodern album of the 90s", while Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic said it remained "a bracing sonic adventure that gains richness and resonance with each listen" because of the "ingenious structure and arrangement" of the songs and their exceptional use of "noise and experimental music".[30]

At the end of 1995, Maxinquaye was named the year's best record in year-end polls by numerous English publications, including NME and Melody Maker, and finished second in the voting for The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics.[31] The album also received a nomination for the Mercury Prize, an annual music award given to the best record from the UK and Ireland. It was later ranked high in Q magazine's list of the 100 greatest British albums, Mojo's "100 Modern Classics", and Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the 90s", among other lists.[32] In 2013, NME named Maxinquaye the 202nd best album of all time.[33] According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 170th most ranked record on critics' all-time lists.[34]

In Maxinquaye's first few months of release, it sold over 100,000 copies in the UK, despite no significant radio airplay.[35] The record charted for 35 weeks and peaked at number 3 on the British charts.[36] After it was released in the US on April 18, Tricky toured the country as a supporting act for fellow English recording artist PJ Harvey.[37] According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album had sold 222,000 copies in the US by 2003.[38] By 2012, it had sold over 500,000 copies worldwide. That same year, Tricky performed the entire album with Topley-Bird on April 27 at the Sundance London festival, which was their first onstage appearance together in 15 years.[32]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Tricky, except where noted.[9]

No. Title Length
1. "Overcome"   4:30
2. "Ponderosa" (Tricky, Howie B) 3:31
3. "Black Steel" (Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee) 5:40
4. "Hell Is Round the Corner"   3:47
5. "Pumpkin"   4:31
6. "Aftermath"   7:39
7. "Abbaon Fat Tracks"   4:27
8. "Brand New You're Retro"   2:54
9. "Suffocated Love"   4:53
10. "You Don't"   4:39
11. "Strugglin'"   6:39
12. "Feed Me"   4:04

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[9]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1995) Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart[39] 48
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[39] 29
Belgian Albums Chart (Wallonia)[39] 42
British Albums Chart[36] 3
Dutch Albums Chart[39] 64
German Albums Chart[39] 76
New Zealand Albums Chart[39] 23
Swedish Albums Chart[39] 18

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]