I first heard the “Black Steel” cover so many years ago, by accident, on a CD I won in a magazine contest. (You can get some idea of the vintage of that by that description, I think.) It was my first experience of Tricky and I’m pretty sure I thought he was a band because, of course, a woman is singing. It was years before I heard the original so I have a special fondness for the cover which, after listening to this a few times, remains my favourite thing here only because it’s the most familiar.
This is a strange, mysterious record. People throw around words like “sexy” and “sinister” (at the same time!) but I don’t know if I’m there yet (or if I’ll ever be). To me, it’s certainly exotic both because of how British it is – in genre but most obviously in accents – but also because Tricky draws from a wider palette than, say, Portishead. At times it’s almost as though he’s like a darker, more hip hop Bjork in terms of diversity. (Not quite, but on the spectrum.)
Tricky isn’t enough of a songwriter to compete with Portishead on that front, but he’s a better, more conventional songwriter than the guys in Massive Attack and, for me, he’s also more musically interesting. (Maybe he’s more consistently musically interesting, that’s probably the better way of putting it. I also like more of the stuff Tricky uses than what Massive Attack uses, in terms of samples and whatnot.) And this is more diverse than Portishead, as I’ve already indicated. (“Hell Is Round The Corner” sounds a bit too much like Portishead, though, right?) So he’s got his own unique corner of the genre and it’s one I rather like, even I found this record just a bit hard to get into initially (aside from the cover, which I know well).
But with time basically everything I like about the genre is here and the only thing that keeps me from giving it even higher marks is the lack of truly great songs.