Album Review: Tricky “Maxinquaye” (1995)


Maxinquaye was the 1995 debut album of English trip hop musician Tricky, following in the wake of pioneering albums by the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead. Trip-hop was a style of music that emerged out of Bristol in the UK during the early 1990s as a variant of backbeat that contained elements of soul, funk, and jazz. Given the term trip-hop by the music press, the genre was described as being a fusion of hip-hop and electronica until neither genre is recognizable, and after having listened to this album, that is a description which is very appropriate and is the reason why trip-hop is such a unique music style.

Before I listened to this album I was expecting a poor man’s Massive Attack or an average Portishead spin-off, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this album was neither of these and stands up pretty well in comparison to great albums such as Blue Lines and Dummy. Musically, Maxinquaye is quite dark and mysterious in places and at times has a very eerie feel to it, much like a lot of trip hop I guess. Stylistically, it also sticks largely to the trip-hop script of fusing hip-hop, soul, electronica, and even rock together. The album is notable in that it features Tricky’s then-girlfriend Martina Topley-Bird on vocals who is a definite standout on the album mixing up her performances between cheeky cockney-like vocals on songs such as “Ponderosa”, with lighter almost subtle jazzy vocals on tracks like “Pumpkin”. Although she doesn’t have a large range, her voice very much lends itself to this style of music in that her voice doesn’t dominate the songs, but instead floats gently over the top of the backing track and samples.

The production on here is of great quality. It’s not too busy, or indeed overpowering, but at the same time is definitely not minimal by any means. Tricky had three other producers working on this album with him, and without personally being an expert on trip-hop production it’s hard to tell how much influence he had on the production given his experience and that it was his first album. One of the aspects of the production that I enjoyed the most and something that I like a lot about trip-hop acts is the use of samples, particularly the way in which they blend samples into the track to the point that it is often unrecognizable, or not noticeable. This I feel is a good thing, and in the case of this album allowed the tracks to stand on their own musically without being dominated by the sample alone. Isaac Hayes, The Smashing Pumpkins and Marvin Gaye are all sampled on Maxinquaye but I couldn’t tell this when listening. The subtle use of samples is something I feel distinguishes trip hop from other genres such as hip-hop, which at times has a tendency to let the sample dominate too much on tracks, but that’s just my view.

Maxinquaye came out to rave reviews from music critics and reached number three in the charts in the UK, an amazing feat considering Brit pop was in full swing by 1995. NME also named it their best album of 1995. It seemed that on the back of Maxinquaye and work by Portishead and Massive Attack, trip-hop was very much in vogue in the UK and Europe, especially amongst music connoisseurs and those who wanted something different out of electronic styles. Trip-hop unsurprisingly also proved worthy of being film soundtrack material, with seven songs from Maxinquaye appearing in various films since its release eighteen years ago.

Maxinquaye is a great trip-hop album and holds up extremely well alongside the other notable albums from that early trip-hop period. Despite its dark undertones, it is an album you can easily recline to and is also very good chill out/lazy Sunday music. This album should be listenable for anyone into trip-hop, ambient music, or electronica and might even be worthy background dinner music? But I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I dug it, I’m sure you will too.

– A-

– Sam


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