Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14: Tricky, "Hell Is Around The Corner"

Artist: Tricky
Song: “Hell Is Around The Corner”
Album: Maxinquaye
Year: 1995

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While one can easily make the case that “no genre is easy,” there are certainly a handful of musical styles that seem to be more difficult to execute properly when compared to others.  As the decades have passed, it is clear that anything based on artificial or electronic sounds has an extreme learning curve, and though “anyone with a computer” can make such compositions, only a select few have proven to be able to do so with true expertise.  Yet it is from these handful of “electronic visionaries” where some of the most uniquely brilliant music of the past two decades has emerged, and when done properly, few of the sub-styles of the electronic sound are more breathtaking than so-called “trip hop.”  While some artists of this style firmly root themselves in one of the two core sounds, it is those few who are able to strike the perfect balance that yield the finest results.  Among those elite musicians, there are none that bring the sound and mood that one finds within the sonic bliss from the artist known as Tricky.  After appearing on parts of Massive Attack's 1991 album, Blue Lines, Tricky began working on his solo debut, and the resulting album, 1995's Maxinquaye, remains the high-water mark for the "trip-hop" genre.  Perfectly balancing smooth, slow rhyming with some of the most hypnotic beats and soundscapes ever created, there is no single song that better defines the entire trip-hop genre than what one can experience on Tricky's monumental 1995 single, "Hell Is Around The Corner."

The moment that "Hell Is Around The Corner" begins, both old and newer music fans of the time will be drawn to a rather familiar sample which provides the backbone for the song.  The sample itself is from Curtis Mayfield's song, "Ike's Rap II," and it was first introduced to the wider audience of trip-hop and electronic music a few months earlier when it served a similar purpose on Portishead's equally brilliant "Glory Box."  The smooth, soaring strings and deep, meandering bassline provide one of the most mellow, yet mesmerizing musical combinations in history, and it is nothing short of stunning to consider how perfectly it works in each incarnation.  However, on "Hell Is Around The Corner," the sample is given a bit of an edge with the additional drum beats that accentuate every other note, and when the sample drops out, it is this cadence that provides a stark, almost unnerving tone.  This somewhat dangerous tone matches the songs' title masterfully, and it is the way in which the overall production gives it a "dark alley" feel that makes it such a unique musical experience.  Even in the sampled "record crackle," there are moments where it almost sounds like rain hitting the pavement, and this is yet another way which one can hear just how far Tricky pushed the sonic limitations throughout "Hell Is Around The Corner."

Along with the flawless production of the song, Tricky's vocals are just as enthralling, both in terms of sonic quality, as well as the mood of the lyrics.  In complete contrast to the trend of the time, Tricky makes a point on "Hell Is Around The Corner" to perform his rhymes at a staggeringly slow pace, and yet it is this tempo that also enables each word to hit with maximum impact.  This speed also allows his slightly raspy voice to blend perfectly with the music over which he performs, and the slight echoes that are placed at random times enhance the hazy, almost ghostly tone of the song.  It is also the rhythm he uses, as well as the almost lulling emphasis that brings out the darker feeling, reflecting this same tone in the music.  The way in which his vocals push the overall mood of the song to this extent even surpasses his predecessors on many levels, and though one can clearly hear connections to the acts he worked with previously, there is no question that "Hell Is Around The Corner" is an entirely unique musical vessel.  Yet the link to Massive Attack is not hidden at all within the lyrics, as they are the exact same that were used on their song "Eurochild."  However, one cannot overstate the sense of "cool" that Tricky injects into the lyrics on this take, and whether he is name-checking clothing brands or dealing with his inner demons, "Hell Is Around The Corner" is without question the finest vocal performance of his career.

To find perfection within any genre of electronic-based music is quite a task, as there are scores of under-talented and over-egoed tracks cluttering up the scene.  Yet when one does find one of those truly special recordings, it quickly puts the others into proper perspective, and there is also an instant appreciation for the balance and technique of the artist in question.  Having clearly learned a great deal about mixing moods and styles, as well as how to push a song to its fullest potential from working with other seminal artists of the genre, it is perhaps a bit less surprising that Tricky's 1995 debut has stood the test of time.  Even after almost two decades, it remains unmatched on many levels, and the songs are just as captivating now as they were when the album was first released.  It is the way in which each track is able to reinvent the idea of "trip-hop" in a fresh way that separates Maxinquaye from its peers, and it is also Tricky's brilliant vocal work that set the standard for the genre.  Every necessary element is perfectly balanced on "Hell Is Around The Corner," and though many other tracks on the album are absolutely stunning, it is this performance that manages to rise slightly above the rest.  Though it is often quickly linked to other songs that use the same sample, it is certainly worthy of that company, and manages to retain its individuality in this circumstance.  From the execution of this distinct take to the uniquely sedative vocal work, there are few tracks from any form of electronic music that can hold their own alongside Tricky's superb 1995 song, "Hell Is Around The Corner."

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