When last we encountered Adrian Thaws he appeared locked into a self-destructive cycle of grating subterranean noise, ugly B-boy posturing and journo-punching petulance. After three albums largely composed of grime-caked, gravel-voiced, tune-shy doggerel, the Olympian peaks of 1994’s ‘Maxinquaye’ seemed lost forever.
But trust [a]Tricky[/a] to dodge his own funeral, because ‘Juxtapose’ is laced with drops of the old stuff. Put it down to guest producers and co-writers, notably Cypress Hill‘s DJ Muggs, but the churning murk has been replaced by some semblance of clarity, structure and melody.
Billed as both a rootsy return to hip-hop and the splendour of ‘Maxinquaye’, this album is neither – except perhaps in [a]Tricky[/a]’s mind. But it is precisely this skewed vision which keeps him so compelling, as well as so damnably perverse.
in bow-tied Fun Lovin’ Criminals style while a Bowie-esque crooner provides the haunting, rolling hookline. Smootherama.
Elsewhere this cosmetic sense of order begins to fragment and the old, scrambled [a]Tricky[/a] peeks through the cracks, but at least the noises are largely inspired and innovative. ‘She Said’ drapes a sleek, weightless techno-samba around a gritty crime-and-punishment narrative while ‘Call Me’ suspends a woozy whispering gallery within a humid, ersatz Eastern mantra. ‘Hot Like A Sauna’ begins “Hell is round the corner”, the author sampling himself in a hailstorm of asthmatic rasps and gnarly industro-rock loops. There’s a superfluous ‘Alt. Version’ too, which is hardly alt. at all.
Some listeners may take offence at the X-rated porn fantasies of guest Brit-rapper Mad Dog on ‘I Like Girls’, even though his ragga chat is pure Smiley Culture, while [a]Tricky[/a]’s slithering musical backdrop seems to undercut any cartoon sexism with shuffling, dread-filled insecurity. And some kind of redemption seems attainable in final track ‘Luv’, a stripped-down staccato shanty in which [a]Tricky[/a] implores, “I wish I could see love/Where have you been, love”.
Whether genius or faker, these are clearly the bruise-toned, broken-backed, heavy-breathing half-tunes that buzz incessantly around inside [a]Tricky[/a]’s head. His music is ‘for real’, however distorted his notion of reality may be. He’s the Mark E Smith of washed-out industrial trip-hop, spewing garbled but sporadically brilliant verbiage, riding buckled rhythms which sound more like products of obsessive-compulsive mania than of programmed machinery.
So ‘Juxtapose’ is no ‘Maxinquaye’, but it is [a]Tricky[/a] meeting us halfway. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but plenty more for him to build on. Get building.