In 1996, Tricky was a star. After being the odd man out in Massive Attack for so long, Maxinquaye arrived on a thunderstorm of hype and debuted at number 3 on the UK charts. His distinct sense of style and outspoken, quote ready, way with interviews turned Tricky from gutter nothing to the guy every cool kid wanted at his party. However, fame also seemed to have torpedoed Tricky’s sense of quality control. Where Maxinequaye was a tightly controlled piece of industrial machinery, Pre-Millennial Tension is a black sprawl in serious need of some editing.
Where Maxinquaye felt powered by a deep desire, to prove all of Tricky’s doubters firmly wrong, Pre-Pre-Millennial Tension doesn’t seem to have a purpose at all. Much of it seems hell bent on conjuring up the same sticky stillness of heroin. Even when Tricky is aggressive (“Tricky Kid”) or trading rapid fire verses with Martina Topley Bird (Eric B & Rakim cover ”Lyrics of Fury”), the songs still can’t break out of an all encompassing black tar stillness. A few tracks hint at the engagingly druggy vibe that Tricky was aiming for here. Opener “Vent” rolls and crashes over tumbling drums and Tricky’s teeth gritting harmony with Martina, “Can’t hardly breathe.” The ethereal “Makes Me Wanna Die” slowly drifts through the haze like a bird disappearing over the horizon. But these moments are rare and not nearly bright enough to pull the record through its endless back half.
“My defenses/Become fences”
There is the possibility of a great album in here though. I say that almost exclusively because of “Christiansands”, which is so good it immediately divorces itself from the rest of the album. From it’s opening tough as nails drum break to that blooming bass line, it’s clearly the product of what happens when Tricky sits down and just focuses. It creates and sustains a fierce groove for its entire duration with Tricky and Topley Bird just vamping over the top of it. “And you think I’m fake up/Wait around till I take off my makeup,” Tricky growls with a distinctive rasp in his throat. “Christiansands” is so good it’s almost frustrating amidst its wispy surroundings.
Following the release of Pre-Millennial Tension, Tricky spent the remainder of the decade and the following releasing records to increasing disinterest from the public. The man born Adrian Thaws wound up a slave to expectations he created on his debut album, a promise he could never quite fulfill.
Written by Holiday Kirk