Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It’s amazing how Tricky – more often than not a shambolic paranoid, the world’s worst advert for weed – raises his game when he’s got an enemy in his sights, rather than just whispering in his head. The backstory to “Divine Comedy”: some witless Polygram fat-cat made some racist remark at an industry bash, to the effect that if record companies were to exclude employees with criminal records, there’d be no blacks in the industry. Most of the people there probably just thought he was being excitingly non-PC (you know, like the Prodigy or someone). Not so Tricky, whose record label had been bought up by Polygram, and who headed for the studio to crank out this festering, raging white label screed of loathing – for the executive, his company, the whole situation, the whole record industry, and not least himself for ending up mixed up in it all.

Vitriolic doesn’t describe it, words barely touch it – this is a record whose only ‘hooks’ are a sampled voice hooting “Polygram!” and Tricky repeating, again and again and again, “Fuck you niggers”. The music is boiling, itchy, corrupted loop-funk, much like Miles Davis was producing on the peerlessly fucked-up On The Corner. After this, Angels With Dirty Faces was completely redundant – he’d said everything about the state of his mind and music in “Divine Comedy”, when he mutters “Every black man in the industry has a conviction / How can you say that with conviction?” and he doesn’t even sound angry anymore, just absolutely exhausted. Sometimes you listen to “Divine Comedy” and it’s just a rage and a mess, and you care just as little as Tricky thinks you do. But however flailing and confused it seems, there’s a hard kernel of negation in the middle which no amount of industry polishing could ever ironise away.