I Am She Who Stinks of Men: Tricky’s Maxinquaye at 25

Plenty of works can lay claim to the title of the Horniest Album of All-Time, but only rarified company like Prince or PJ Harvey can straddle both that shortlist and the one for Greatest Albums Ever Made

Back cover image on Maxinquaye

Well, what else could I have called it? I’ll Fuck You in the Ass Just for a Laugh: Tricky’s Maxinquaye at 25?

Plenty of works can lay claim to the title of the Horniest Album of All-Time but only rarified company like Prince or PJ Harvey can, um, straddle, both that shortlist and the one for Greatest Albums Ever Made. Anyone can be a freak; very few freaks can come up with “I’ll fuck you in the ass / Just for a laugh” and let it roll off a puff of smoke like it just innocently free-dripped off of the brain. Martina Topley-Bird and Adrian Thaws suck the genius right out of each other, and the egomaniac himself was visionary enough to give her not just music’s greatest anal bon mot but also “I think ahead of you, I think instead of you” and the joke that gives away the title “Overcome” as a variation on ejaculation.

Like plenty of emulated sexpots, the first couple of trip-hop grabbed the world’s roving gaze by finding novel ways to demonstrate how bored they are. “Let’s waste some more time / I sign the dotted line” they rhapsodize about marriage in a song that drops references to both Maya Angelou and Cypress Hill. When Martina hiccups that she drinks til she’s drunk and smokes til she’s senseless, you highly doubt she stops there. They’re not just simulating unimpressed not-yet-adults with SSRI prescriptions who fuck to block out the injustices of the world, they’re crystallizing an archetype in real time.

Tricky Maxinquaye, Island Records 1995

They never stop outsmarting themselves — “The only lessons you teach us from a margin / They ask my origin” takes the album out on a downright academic note — but never each other. One of the reasons this would-be creepfest of older man mouthing lines via younger chanteuse (are we still allowed to use this word?) works at all is because the gamesmanship is limited to their flirting. Their mutual respect as equals allows all the “fuck you in, suck you in, tuck you in” and “I ride the premenstrual cycle”  to float above power games or cheap trolling or petty manipulation. They’re boasting of such taboos together, in unison, with the man whose name is on the record rarely taking lines to himself.

And somehow even more than their overflowing intellect or leaky libidos, it’s Tricky and Martina’s ears that conquer all, seeing across genres both established and not yet existing in 1995, maybe even 2020. The slammed-dresser-down-the-stairs percussion of “Ponderosa” wobbles around Martina’s giggly singsong in neither R nor B fashion, followed by a Public Enemy cover that was designated rock and roll. “Abbaon Fat Track” reminded Tricky of “Abba on fat tracks” and in highly un-poptimist 1995 a depressive soundscaper leaned into it. “You Don’t” sounds like reggae in quicksand with Motown strings swirling overhead. “Overcome” does things with a pan flute that nature never intended.

Maxinquaye came in at no. 2 in the 1995 Village Voice Pazz N Jopp Critics Poll

There are, off-course, tracks without Topley-Bird. Can an album be perfect and still have Tricky rapping “Brand New You’re Retro” or Isaac Hayes-talking “Hell Is Around the Corner?” For that matter, can a pre-fame Alison Goldfrapp and the Smashing Pumpkins interrupt this locked-in fuckfeast on “Pumpkin” and still have it be Maxinquaye? None of them are the best songs; absolutely zero of them are expendable. Maxinquaye is precisely this shape because of its improbability. All of it belongs, including the disturbing gallow blues of “Strugglin’,” a classic whose gun-cocks and faucet-drips suggest that death row comes after sex, and before it.

Tricky wasn’t the first to suggest fatalism as the flipside of coitus, but he may have brought it to its richest realization. To this day, his suggestions for what hip-hop, blues, reggae, and R&B should become remain near-total outliers; this album is lonely in the best way. Share it with someone special and when you funk, you’ll hear beats.

 

 

Dan Weiss

Dan Weiss is a freelance music journalist based in Collingswood, New Jersey. He is the former (and last-ever) reviews editor at Spin magazine.

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