What appears utterly uncompromising may turn out to be his smartest commercial move, with [a]Limp Bizkit[/a]Number One in the US and extreme music on the rise again worldwide...
Fuck you, he won’t do what they tell him to, of course. Expect an easy ride, and he’ll give you hell. So [a]Tricky[/a]’s new album, ‘Juxtapose’, is his most approachable since the culture-defining millstone of ‘Maxinquaye’, framing his usual preoccupations – vengeance, independence, the countless iniquities of the music business – in a calmer, spacier context. So it’s been co-produced by hip-hop heavyweights DJ Muggs and Grease, prompting rumours that the corporate dream of presenting this extraordinary twitching bundle of rage and talent as a relatively straightforward rapper is coming closer. So.
So what? Tonight, there are moments when [a]Tricky[/a] and his latest team of shadowy hired hands sound more like Sepultura. The formula is simple: the guitarist – legs splayed, low-slung, headbanging – begins a cranking, massive metal riff and plays it on a loop for the best part of ten minutes over clattering pararhythms.
Meanwhile, Kioka Williams sings a little, with another one of those fine [a]Tricky[/a]-foil voices that vacillates between pained soulfulness, ethereal shades and a cold, withering precision. Finally, [a]Tricky[/a] arrives; snarling, muffled, seemingly so consumed by a barely articulate anger that he shakes as the words come pouring out. Always, by the end, he’s shouting, shouting to be heard over the grind of the guitar, repeating lines again and again as if he’s trying to purge his body of each song once and for all. Then he stalks away to the back of the stage, flexes, and prepares for the whole gruelling process to begin again. No rest for the wicked, for sure.
Imagine Rage Against The Machine cleansed of the corrupting influence of the tune, reduced to fiercely mechanistic riffs and, well, pure rage, and you’re close to how this breathtaking, terrifying gig sounds. Pushed for the sort of genre tag [a]Tricky[/a] so despises, you could call it trip-metal, a mathematical exercise in repetition and brutality that often seems designed, once again, to shake off those dogged, slightly frightened fans who still turn up for the moment when he initiates a terse and lovely ‘Overcome’, a mere scrap of consolation.
The real purpose of all this is, as ever, unclear. One of the songs on his excellent forthcoming album [a]Tricky[/a] doesn’t play is a pretty slither of coiled psychoses called ‘Contradictive’, a title that more profoundly nails his fathomless character than any number of hack psychiatrist reports. Maybe he just makes a noise because he can, because it’s the best way to confuse and annoy. Maybe, in the same way he hides in the darkness onstage – he stops one song here to announce, “Get these bright lights offstage, you c–” – he uses the metallic KO to shield his discomfort at performing. Nothing too specific, too revealing can be distinguished – this is blanket hatred and aggression, the ‘moodiness’ ascribed to [a]Tricky[/a] so often erupted into a remorseless carpet bombing of bile.
And very impressive it is, too. It goes on a bit too long sometimes, so you become inured to the clawhammering that’s being administered to your skull, and the point of [a]Tricky[/a]’s latest mission to outrage becomes lost through sheer bruised familiarity. But from the start, when Williams plants the refrain of ‘Heart Of Glass’ into a sticky mess of industrial beats, it’s clear the old tricks of subtlety and stealth aren’t on the agenda. By the time they reach ‘Juxtapose’ standout ‘Hot Like A Sauna’ – ‘Brand New You’re Retro’ amped up to 11, forever – [a]Tricky[/a]’s strapped on a guitar, high on raw power, leaving the rapping to his tongue-twisting, yapping new MC, Mad Dog.
Then it all makes sense: in the most perverse twist of [a]Tricky[/a]’s career yet, what appears utterly uncompromising may turn out to be his smartest commercial move, with Limp Bizkit Number One in the US and extreme music on the rise again worldwide. Fuck credibility – someone should book him for Ozzfest now. He has nothing to lose but his isolation, after all.