For a man who, by conventional measures, isn’t exactly model material, Adrian Thawes AKA Tricky has certainly been in a lot of amazing pictures. Before opting for this – a still from the strange, narcotically seductive video for “Hell Is Round The Corner”, full video here – I considered ones of Tricky in full drag, in silver make-up, as a leering devil and stripped down, tattooed and muscled. Like Bowie or Madonna, he’s a pop shape-shifter.
But this image seemed to best capture Tricky during his early – and brief – career as the most unsettling and intriguing pop star of his day. It captures the un-nerving (and brave) androgyny, the stoned menace and the I’ve-seen-more-than-you-ever-will defiance in his eyes. The stark, seedy red background is pure David Lynch.
At the time Tricky was in his period of outrageous creative genius – the Pet Shop Boys call it the “imperial period” which all great pop stars, including themselves, experience once. Tricky’s imperial period delivered the near perfection of “Maxinquaye” – its hip hop beats, heavy metal guitars and pop samples demonstrating his refusal to be bound by genre. Melodically, the combination of his own harsh rasp and Martina Topley-Bird’s honeyed, detached purr added up to a collection of songs are as beautiful as they are bleak.
His next albums began to stutter (though still contained masterpieces like the funereal “Poems” and the twitchy, seething “Christiansands”) and his career is now at best a curiosity, and sometimes embarrassing. His bizarre cameo during a Beyonce festival gig made most of the crowd wonder why her roadies didn’t stop the crazy old man who seemed to have sneaked onstage and grabbed a mic to mumble incoherently into, while a recent performance of “Maxinquaye” in London was the single most frustrating and cantankerous gig I’ve seen in years.
But look again at this image and remember what a wonderful and strange pop creature Tricky was, and how many doors he opened for artists of the future to throw off the straitjackets of musical genre and embrace the weird. As another pop eccentric, Adam Ant, once sang: “ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”