In a music scene dominated by the safe, the threadbare and the predictable, Tricky comes on like a sonic anarchist--a ceaselessly creative sort who's eager to abolish all rules, tear down those power structures that have outlived their usefulness and destroy anything trite that crosses his line of sight. As Pre-Millennium Tension demonstrates, he's a man of, for and about the moment. His sounds, his notes, his tangents, his snippets of silence are fresh, vibrant: They feel as if they're happening right now. Furthermore, they retain the ability to surprise. The tracks are willfully eclectic yet utterly singular; despite the legions of Tricky imitators spawned in the wake of his brilliant debut album, 1995's Maxinquaye, his work continues to sound like no one else's. On first listen, the words he writes seem like weak links: The Grandmaster Flash quote that pops up in "Vent" ("Don't push me/'Cause I'm close to the edge/Trying hard not to lose my head") feels too explicit, while the manner with which "Tricky Kid" deals with his sudden notoriety initially seems not all that far removed from the approaches utilized by garden-variety hip-hop egomaniacs. But closer inspection yields unexpected pleasures even in the instances noted above: Just as "Vent" takes the theme of "The Message" into surreal territory that vibrates with contemporaneity, "Tricky Kid" uses hyperbolic imagery (he says his first sin will be to have his way with Mary Magdalene) to reveal the hollowness at the heart of most rap boasts. The music, meanwhile, is a thrilling collage of upfront percussion, bass slabs, guitar and keyboard smears and sweet-and-sour vocals (Maxinquaye vet Martina provides the former, Tricky the latter). As was the case with Nearly God, the Tricky side project whose self-titled album hit stores only a couple of months ago, Tension generally moves at a dilatory tempo; the chords are given the opportunity to echo eerily, then fade away into the vacuum of space. It's a risky tack, and one that takes more confidence than most performers can muster, but Tricky pulls it off again and again. A cover of Chill Rob G's "Bad Dream" is as creepy and brash as early Public Enemy without in any way aping the PE style; "Makes Me Wanna Die" captures the seductiveness of dope without minimizing its risks; and "Sex Drive" roils and thrashes like coitus that desperately needs interrupting. Like a modern-day version of Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, this album doesn't make for easy listening. Even the relatively straightforward "Christiansands" and a bracing rendition of Eric B. & Rakim's "Lyrics of Fury" would be seen as wild experiments on practically any other recording. But the extra effort a listener must expend to plumb the depths of Tricky's latest is definitely worthwhile. Pre-Millennium Tension sounds like 1996--and it makes practically everything else sound like about 1974.
For those who've been out of the loop for a while, Mykal Rose was once Michael Rose, the Grammy-winning former frontman of Black Uhuru. When Rose left Black Uhuru after the band's seminal 1984 album Anthem, he began a solo career using the name "Michael Rose," but the results were somewhat spotty: Though he recorded numerous singles and EPs, none of these efforts was released on this side of the ocean. As a result, Rose practically dropped off the reggae map, at least in the States. But a year or so ago he re-emerged on the Heartbeat label, releasing his American solo debut, a dub version of the material on that same disc, and the excellent Be Yourself CD within the span of a few months. His latest, Nuh Carbon, appears on the RAS imprint, but his use of the "Mykal Rose" tag seems unrelated to the record-company switchover: It may simply be another effort on his part to distinguish his most recent work from his Black Uhuru past. The new recording generally eschews the heavy roots style that distinguished Uhuru: While Rose's heartfelt wails are as beautiful as ever, the music he makes is more modern--it utilizes drum kits and synthesizers that give the songs a decidedly upbeat edge. But though tracks like "Original, Nuh Carbon" showcase the possibilities of this approach, other notable compositions (particularly "My Eyes on Jah Jah") sport enough roots appeal to placate diehard fans of Rose's former group. Better yet, Nuh Carbon doesn't waste time with ill-advised remakes of Uhuru classics like "I Love King Selassie" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," both of which were included on his previous solo effort. Clearly, neither Michael Rose nor Mykal Rose needs to rely on past glories. There are present glories aplenty.
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Weezer's sophomore release makes one thing abundantly clear--auteur Rivers Cuomo needs to get laid more often. Even if you discount "Tired of Sex," Pinkerton's somewhat facetious opener, the romantic struggles of the Bay Area's answer to Billy Corgan provide the impetus for no fewer than seven of the remaining nine cuts. In several of these tracks, Cuomo comes across like a post-grunge version of the character played by John Ritter on Three's Company. For example, "Across the Sea" finds the singer lamenting his desire for an unavailable (and no doubt underage) fan, while "Pink Triangle" offers the lines, "Everyone's a little queer/Can't she be a little straight?" as a postmortem for another doomed attraction. Still, Cuomo's self-deprecating sense of humor, his gleefully off-kilter guitar stylings and his taste for deliberately sing-songy melodic lines ensure that the disc is not nearly the whinefest it might have been in other hands. (The only exception to this rule is "Butterfly," an honest-to-gosh ballad that, with the right packaging, might make a credible assault on the adult-contemporary marketplace--and that's not intended as an insult. Really.) Granted, the entire production lacks the nascent freshness that marked Weezer's self-titled debut, but that's as much the fault of DGC, which did such an effective job of making the combo a household name, as it is of anyone in the band. As for Pinkerton, let's hope it does absolutely nothing to raise Mr. Cuomo's stock with the ladies. After all, a satisfying love life has spelled the end of more than one musical career.