Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Paranoid android: Tricky’s voice here is a mechanical, throaty burr, counterpointed by capering, maddened howls and shrieks. The beat, choppy and tense, whips him along, goading him into telling his cracked, confused story just as well as he can. Tricky looks out on a capital where everything anyone might hold dear – creativity, loyalty, roots, peace of mind – is either up for sale or ripe for culling, is being sucked into a swirling, powder-fuelled sinkhole of greed and madness. He’s not talking as an outsider or someone who’s risen above it – he’s talking as a man who’s already traded himself in, been pulled into the vortex and now has simply nothing left to lose. He hates himself and he doubts himself, his story may be unreliable but it was also true, you could read about it in the Sunday papers, except there they called it a cultural explosion. Welcome to Cool Britannia, please don’t rock the boat when you disembark.

It was a vile time to be a Londoner. The city had turned holographic: flickering, knowing and unreal. It was as if some genome project of style had reached completion, and the metropolis had become a testing ground for the new chromosomes of cool. Everyone knew exactly what to do and what not to do, and everybody calmly went about doing it. We were all individuals now: to believe in anything would be to surrender that. This is what I heard in “Tricky Kid”: that cool was once an itch under the skin, a defiant stance you used to mask the fact that you couldn’t fit if you wanted to. It was not, in other words, an option, not something you learned. And now that time was over – the people who couldn’t fit just ended up forgotten and murderous, and everybody else who mattered, well, they were doing all right. Tricky’s output may be repetitive sometimes, may be addled and surly and messy, but he knows how to pick his targets, and “Tricky Kid”‘s burst of emnity (focussed, even danceable by his standards) cuts to the heart of the matter as surely and with as much relevance as anything he’ll ever put to disc. In one light it’s over the top, but it made sense at a time when not much music did, and that’s something I’ll long be thankful for.