Many words and phrases have been used to describe the artist currently known as Tricky (A.K.A. Adrian Thawes). Among those terms are pioneer, brilliant, freaky, disturbing, nightmarish, evocative, groundbreaking, genius, and just plain old weird. On the Island/UME release Tricky: A Ruff Guide, his first five solo LPs (Maxinquaye, Nearly God, Pre-Millennium Tension, Angels With Dirty Faces and Juxtapose) are revisited, resulting in a 17-track collection, hand picked by Mr. Thawes himself.
As an original member of The Wild Bunch (which later evolved into Massive Attack), this Bristol, England native’s peculiar, one-of-a-kind voice was first heard on the band’s astounding 1992 debut Blue Lines, on tracks such as “Blue Lines”, “Karmacoma”, and “Five Man Army”. A year later, he would leave his former Wild Bunch mates and venture out on his own. He released “Aftermath”, his debut single and the first track on Tricky: A Ruff Guide, with sensual vocalist Martina Topley-Bird. Martina went on to become his full-time musical collaborator as well as the mother of his daughter. “Aftermath” resurfaced three years later on Maxinquaye, Tricky’s debut LP, which received rave reviews from music critic’s the world over. Other cuts from Maxinquaye on this collection include the Public Enemy cover “Black Steel”, “Pumpkin”, “Hell Is Around the Corner”, “Ponderosa” and “Overcome”.
In February of 1996, Tricky released his second album under the pseudonym Nearly God to more strong reviews. This album was referred to as “minimalist trip-hop” due to its sparse instrumentation, and contained collaborations with artists as diverse as Björk, Neneh Cherry, and Alison Moyet. Two selections featuring The Specials’ Terry Hall (“Poems” and “Bubbles”), and Martina (“I Be The Prophet”) are included here.
Later that same year, the album Pre-Millennium Tension was released, revealing a new, more sinister sound, most likely attained due to his move to New York City and his work with underground rappers. Referred to as “menacing” in the press, this LP contained the singles “Christiansands” (the biggest hit of his career), “Tricky Kid” (hailed as his best rap song, with backing vocals by Rock, who sounds like a British P. Diddy), and “Makes Me Wanna Die” (which contains a sample of Eric B. & Rakim’s “To the Listeners), all of which can be found on this Ruff Guide. As usual, the press ate this release up. Adjectives used this time around included “bold” and “diverse”.
His final two Island releases, Angels With Dirty Faces and Juxtapose, released in 1998 and 1999 respectively, brought together hip-hop, dub, electronica, rock and even gospel. Angels With Dirty Faces is represented on this collection by the gospel-tinged “Broken Homes”, a collaboration with P.J. Harvey, while the singles “For Real”, “Wash My Soul”, and “Scrappy Love” show up from the album Juxtapose, a collaboration LP with Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs and DMX producer Grease.
According to the book Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones, Tricky once stated, “he could be the British Prince. He wears dresses, he has girls on guitar, there’s no black or white to his music, and there’s nothing like it.” Another Prince-like title comes to mind when discussing Mr. Thawes: workaholic. During this three-year stint with Island, Tricky also did production and remixes for Elvis Costello, Garbage, Yoko Ono and Bush, and even appeared with Snoop Dogg on the Lollapalooza tour.
Sparkling reviews aside, listeners should keep in mind that Tricky’s music is not for everyone. He may be a musical genius, but during his Island days, he was very non-radio friendly. He did seem to loosen up more after leaving the label, doing songs with Ed Kowalczyk from Live and The Red Hot Chili Peppers on his album Blowback (2001, Hollywood Records).
Final words of advice: free your mind, open your heart, and let Tricky: A Ruff Guide take you to a place many would fear to tread.