tricky - angelic upstart
by kurt b. reighley  photos: michael halsband
proclaimend the face of new music for the millenium, the genius of the moment climbs off the pedestal and with angels with dirty faces, finds himself south of heaven.
The world needs rules. Without them, we'd all just be a bunch of anarshists clad in A-in-a-circle T-shirts looted from the local punk boutique, running around like so many decapitated chickens. Like all big businesses, the music industry sustains itself by following certain guidelines. If Artist X is terrifically successful, expect countless A&R meetings to begin booming with the chorus "bring me the next Artist X!" 
  But rules requite exceptions. That's what distinguishes Artist X in the first place. 
  When he first bowed on Massive Atack's Blue Lines in 1991, Tricky may have seemed like an inconsequential grain of sand lodged in a mildly noticeable place: By the release of his debut solo album Maxinqaye in 1994, he'd matured into a highly prized black pearl. Four years 1ater, with his third album Angels With Dirty Faces (lsland) and a flurry of activity at his Durban Poison label, Tricky continues to confound the rules.

Tricky - the artist formerly known as x-pays no min to what the folks in A&R and marketing cry every time they have this month's genius on their hands. He never has. Their fanfare just honks like a gaggle of squawking geese in his seasoned ears. "Everybody is The Next Bob Marley, The Next Jimi Hendrix" he sputters. "Before they've had time to write songs and and prove it. Please! Bob Marley touched millions of souls with just an acoustic guitar and his voice." Condenders don't need comparisons to the classics, he insists.
   From a purely aesthetic perspective, such kudos are distractind at best, and often a short cut to a creative dead end. What new talents really need is a lifetime of experience to draw on, and clear channels for the music to speak through them. "l had a warm welcome on Maxinquaye, but now anybody can get a warm welcome. Anybody can be the Next This or That. And if that's true, it makes you think 'Why do I even bother?"'
   "Nothing means anything" he sighs. "It blows my mind."
   In the past seven years, Tricky hasn't stopped revealing musical facets to anyone who will listen The narcoleptic grooves and eerie patchwork samples of Maxinquaye set standards countless imitators have tried to match ever since. But our hero was already shifting gears by the time the
album had achieved critical mass, following up with the raw collabrations found on 1996's star-studded Nearly God project and the Tricky Presents Grassroots hip-hop EP. Pre-Millennium Tension, the second 'proper' Tricky album, fused old school rap ideals with the immediacy of punk rock, as the artist consciously attempted to discard the unwanted title King of the Slow Beats.
   But chart positions and press clippings shouldn't affect a musician's creativity. Tricky understands that the greatest artists have historically followed a singular vision and let the marketplace find them, rather than fashioning their wares to suit consumer trends. Tricky tries to pay the philistines no mind, though he readily admits he is often discouraged that so much mediocre crap clogs eardrums 'round the world. "You know how you leave school, ate certain jobs that are easy work? It seerns like the music industry has become like that," he says, "Making records is going to be like working at McDonald's in 20 years."
   The man once christened Adrian Thaws is enthusiastic and opinionated. He even comes across as fairly confident. But as he shovels forkfuls of steak and fries into his mouth at downtown New York eatery, he certainly doesn't come across as unduly cocky or affected (although he does turn a few heads among the moneyed lunchtime set). His actions are motivated almost exclusively by his love of music. "Someone who's pretentious is not going to make an album that's going to touch your soul," Tricky has remarked on more than one occasion. Angels With Dirty Faces won't radically alter the course of your life. But it will make you think, primarily about music: the space it occupies in our lives, how it is packaged and sold, and what drives people to create it.
   "I've got a chance to express myself," he observes. "Now for me to worry and run around trying to make a certain record, what I think people want, that's ridiculous." He doesn't fear the consequences, either. "I don't mind losing some fans. People shouldn't worry about that." Unfortunately not all popular musicians understand that concept early enough to benefit from it. "Look at Depeche Mode," he points out. Tricky's been a fan of the band's sound and its songwriting for years. "They sold millions and millions of records. But I read somewhere that they said they were influenced by me on their new album... and they didn't sell any records!"
   He laughs. "That's backwards. And it's unfair. People love them so much that they want the same thing off them all the time. They've only been giving audiences one side of their personalities, so people love that one side. When they try and show another side, prople don't buy it."

Angels with dirty faces was recorded primarily during a spell in New Orleans last year. "I use music now as an excuse to travel," Tricky admits. "I'm the sort of person who won't have a holiday." Now when it comes time to record an album, he deliberately chooses locations to record he might otherwise never svisit for long. After the initial .....

..... there. You can actually see the equipment you bought for the boys club."
   Of course, there was some concern about the source of the funds, too. "Some of these charities were pompous and didn't want the money, because it came from gangsters telling stories," he scoffs. "That's ridiculous. Starving kids aren't worried where the money's coming from."
   Another project that's ready to go is the first record from the Baby Namboos. "It's like the '90s Happy Mondays. It's two of my cousins from Manchester and two of 'em from Bristol. And my sister's singing on some of it."
   As you might surmise from that bit of evidence, family is extremely important to Tricky. His great uncle, the gangster Martin Godfrey, inspired the Environment concept. Both the suicide of his spirited mother (for whom Maxinquaye was named) and the murder of his cousin Michael crop up on the lyrics of the new "Analyze Me". Recently Tricky even invited the cameras of England's Channel Four into his family home in Bristol's Knowle West neighborhood, where young Adrian Thaws grew up with four generations of mixed race relations. As he proclaims in the documentary Naked And Famous, "the mongrel is the most intelligent one in the litter." His family's mixed heritage and skin tones are sources of great pride to him, no matter what slings and arrows he na dhis kin have endured.
   But these days, the most important family member in his life is Maisey, his three-year-old daighter with Topley-Bird. "She's into her manipulative stage now", he admits, grinning again. "She really plays on it. She's very theatrical - crying, anything to get her way. She's a bit spoiled, but that's what you do." When the band hits the road again in a few weeks, she's come along with her parents.
    But her father isn't sure if all this turning out like he'd hoped. "Unfortunately, she's decided she's going to be a singer now. She's always talking about being on stage, and she'll muck around on guitars."
    He shakes his head at the prospect. "I don't want this to be a business for her." 

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  photos: Michael Halsband
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