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'Remember boy, you're a superstar'
on 2 July 2008
There's a bit of a Bristol revival at the moment what with Massive Attack curating this year's Meltdown festival and new albums from Portishead and Tricky's first muse Martina Topley-Bird. Adrian Thaws to give him his proper name, a leading light of the nineties 'trip-hop' scene, has struggled to reach the heights of his début Maxinquaye with subsequent releases, and whilst he doesn't quite manage it with his latest either it is certainly his strongest material since then. He's enlisted plenty of support along the way and the album has an eclectic mix of sounds but most gratifying to hear, from one who potentially could have disappeared into an apathetic haze of spliff smoke, is some real creative energy being thrown at things.
Nowhere is this energy more prevalent than on the first single Council Estate about which Tricky said 'Council Estate is just me... that song is the upbringing me and friends had. It's the first single I've ever done with just me on vocals. I couldn't whisper that song. I had to come out of myself and do a loud, screaming vocal. I wanted to be a proper front man on that one.' And boy, is he. It's a furious number, just over two and half minutes of competing sounds but with humour in its refrain of 'Remember boy, you're a superstar'. The next track Past Mistake is fantastic, very reminiscent of his past glories with a gorgeous female vocal from Lubua (an ex-girlfriend). She also features on the album closer School Gates which tells the (true) story of a teenage pregnancy and is another highlight. Puppy Toy is a bluesy bar room brawler. Coalition is an angry track about war in the modern world underscored by fractured strings (which reminded me of Faultline's album Closer Colder) as Tricky intones 'You can get your happy meal/In your happy car/You can make more money, more money/But here you are'. The album also contains one of the most unlikely cover versions in Slow which Tricky fleshes out with guitars and his own insistent vocal, injecting much more feeling and urgency than Kylie's anaemic original.
These are just my favourites. There's also ragga and rock as well as rap and more female vocals to enjoy. The albums eclecticism may be the problem but it's a much better problem to have than a lack of imagination. Rappers often talk about "keepin' it real" and "goin' back to the streets" but at the age of 40, in looking back at his past in Bristol, the Knowle West Boy has shown there's a real chance of a bright musical future.