Monday, 4 August 2008

Starting To Kick

Tricky -- 'Council Estate'

This is: unexpectedly upfront, a bullet fired back through time, a bassline, a mess of drums, a kick to the throat, a punk rock song, a shout-a-long, a trite sentiment, a beautiful lie, a message of hope, an unexploded bomb, a faint fizzling sound, something ridiculous, something honest, something true.

Tricky -- 'Tricky Kid'

And yet, for all that 'Council Estate' is determined to fill the powerless and despised with knowledge of their own potential, its central refrain can't help but call back to this song. In 2008 Tricky sings the words "So remember boy you're a superstar", and he sounds like he means it. He's looking back, trying to see the past, to relate to kids on modern council estate, to drag them up with him. Flashback to 1996, Tricky's spitting on the same theme from a totally different perspective:
They used to call me Tricky Kid
I live the life they wish they did
I live the life, I drive the car
And now they call me superstar
So far so boastful, but this swaggering rhetoric only rises out of the murk as a periodic hook. The rest of the time Tricky slurs and croaks a series of almost incoherent threats, drops biblical illusions, and sounds generally disgusted with the air he's breathing. There's something about Tricky's voice here that makes me want to call it diseased, and when it emerges from the lurching guitar loop it sounds like the voice of a man who means to do harm. And hey, Tricky certainly sounds dis-eased on this song: he's a poor kid done good, and as everyone wants to be him, everyone's out to get him, everyone's on coke, "Everybody wants a record deal/Everybody wants to be naked and famous".

Worse, there's another voice on the song, an almost cartoonish jabber that throws Tricky's words back at him with hideous enthusiasm. Everybody wants to be naked and famous you say? Well, the voice says back -- "NAKED AND FAMOUS!" What could be better than that? The voice hovers round the hook, almost like some part of Tricky's ego run wild, pushing him, egging him on. Or maybe torturing him -- "Tell me what you see/When you look into those mongrel eyes?"

And what does he see? "Long as you're humble/Let you be the king of jungle" -- this isn't triumphalism, but it isn't the moaning of the mega-rich either. It's a song about crossing the class barrier, "making something of yourself", and finding yourself both proud and disgusted with what you've become. Proud and disgusted, but not unaware of the fact that you've moved from a small cage to a bigger cage, not unaware of race or class or context. The Tricky of 1996 sounds drunk on the truth and full of aggro, and he chew through each word like he can't wait to get the taste out of his mouth.

The Tricky that sings 'Council Estate' seems to be un-bothered by such concerns, and that's great. But for all the righteous kick of that new song, the sickly, conflicted Tricky of 1996 has a warning for any future superstars out there. Cos hey, guess what? Ain't no such thing as an easy road; people are always going to fuck with you and look down on you, and you might never be able to stomach who you really are. "Same as it ever was", right?

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