It's the fate of the muse to be forever defined by the artist they inspire. So it seemed for Martina Topley Bird who, after providing the sultry female foil to Tricky's paranoia on his first three albums, was thereafter apparently doomed to just being 'that girl off Maxinquaye'. Not even the Mercury Music Prize nomination for her 2003 solo debut, Quixotic, could shake that either: As much attention was focused on the male producers and guests like David Holmes, Josh Homme and Tricky (again) as Martina. That might partly have been due to institutionalised music business sexism, yet good as Quixotic was it also wasn't as coherent as it needed to be, and Martina spent the next five years again playing second fiddle on collaborations with Gorillaz and Diplo.
Which certainly isn't the role we find her in on the follow-up. For even though she's run the risk of being overshadowed by her choice of producer again - and there can surely be no-one more in demand than Danger Mouse right now - her enigmatic yet sensual presence floats right to the foreground of the world they've constructed on The Blue God. And The Blue God is a complete world, one that's eerie, eccentric and extremely English and seems a million miles away from the sunshine-soaked Los Angeles where it was recorded. It's the title as much as the sound of first single, Carnies - the most 'pop' moment here - that's the biggest clue to what to expect. For much of The Blue God does feel like a haunted carnival, with a distinctly sinister atmosphere imparted by lines like, ''I contemplate his victims / as they die'' on April Grove - which would give PJ Harvey the shivers. Meanwhile Danger Mouse's production is a hall of mirrors, warping reflections of Ella Fitzgerald, two-tone ska, dark psychedelia and Pentangle's 'acid folk' into unsettling shapes on tracks like Baby Blue and Shangri La.
It's an often astonishing album and one which, if Tricky's forthcoming comeback can't match it, may curse him to be known as 'that bloke who used to rap with Martina Topley Bird'. --Paul Clarke
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window