speak no evil, hear no evil
Inquiring minds want to know: Is Tricky really the prince of darkness - or are we reading too much into his demonic gurgling?
Critics and fans alike have got Tricky pegged. He's diabolical. He's evil. He's downright mephistocated. Maybe it's the way his expansive, macabre soundscapes often shroud his lyrics. Maybe it's his unsettling gurgling vocals. Then again, it could be the fiendish, gender-bending persona he offers up in photos. Ask the man himself about it, though, and he'll
suggest that it's more what people perceive than what he projects.
    Tricky's satanic image was spawned by the sex-and-danger trip-hop of his critically acclaimed 1995 debut record, Maxinquaye, doubled in size on the furious Pre Millennium Tension, and swelled out of proportion thanks to the sinister sound he lent to collaborations with artists like Björk, Neneh Cherry, and Terry Hall of The Specials. With his latest release, Angels With Dirty Faces, it appears as though he's poised to unleash more darkness on the masses. Or is he? 
    Tricky and I talked a great deal about the
evil reputation that follows him around, but in the five hours we spent together, he never seemed like anything but a nice guy - albeit a nice guy who was witness to some nasty stuff growing up with ganster uncles in Bristol, England. He smiled and laughed often, delighted in the music he played for me, and talked reverently about his 3-year old daughter Mazy.
      Admittedly, there is an uneasiness about Tricky's music- maybe even a sense of skin-crawling menace - but good music should be provocative, and Angels With Dirty Faces certainly is, from the desperate junkie-on-the-run pace of "Money Greedy" to the dreary flink of "Mellow" and the PJ Harvey-assisted gothic gospel march of "Broken Homes." His compositional ability is as uncanny as ever, forcing together disparate musical styles, diversified instrumentation, and harmonic dissonance in a post-industrial gloom that may, indeed, inspire fear of the darkness. Or whatever it is.

SWING: So why do you think you're portrayed as such a dark guy?
Tricky: People think I'm dark because I'm talking about some flicked up, violent things that happened right in front of my face when I was a kid. I've seen my uncle put guns into people's hands and say things like, "With this you can get anything you want." But I read an interview last year that said Shaun Ryder [of Black Grape] is the closest thing England's got to gangsta rap because he's talking about selling drugs and life on the street, and he don't get called dark. So I can only, think it's because I'm black.

SWING: Do you enjoy playing that dark role? 
Tricky: It sort of gets on my nerves sometimes. Even Madonna's on that dark trip right now. So I'm about to destroy that persona. I've done all that dark shit. I did it before Marilyn Manson. I mean, Marilyn Manson ain't scary - he's an art student. Who's that guy in Nine Inch Nails? [Trent Reznor.] There's nothing scary about him at all. Do they call him dark though? They call him dark. They call Marilyn Manson dark. But that's 'cause they're trying to portray it, I suppose. It's like that biting off a little sparrow's head vibe, isn't it?

SWING: But how do you expect to distance yourself from that image if you continue to perpetuate it in your photos?
Tricky:  What people sometimes forget is that I'm very theatrical. I'm very real, but my image is all theatrical. I'll do a photo shoot with nine heavy geezers. And I'll have them all wearing lipstick. Or I'll be wearing lipstick and a dress surrounded by geezers.

SWING: Do you think playing that sinister role has helped you in your career?
Tricky: Listen, here's the thing. See how successful I am in music? Even if I were a gangster, I'd be this successfiil. It's energy, It's not just about talent. It's about wanting to get there, as well.

SWING: Your debut album, Maxinquaye was such a huge success, but you've gone in a different direction with Angels With Dirty Faces. It's much more aggressive, the edges are harder.
Tricky: I couldn't make another album like Maxinquaye. I'd love to, but everybody's doing it. I was walking through a supermarket in London a year after the album came out, and I heard these advertisements with music that sounded like Maxinquaye. People have driven me away from my own music. I couldn't come back to the same vocal style again with the mellow stuff.

SWING: I had thought your voice was intentionally distorted on your albums, but I can tell now that it's natural. How'd get that way?
Tricky: I don't know, but I've always had that gravelly vocal quality. Funny enough, but girls find it sexy. I can't sing. So what you hear is me trying, making up for what I haven't got. I think people connect with that effort.

Michael Gelfand is the senior editor at Musican magazine.

"Angels..." presskit
more album reviews