Record label: Island
Release date: 7 May 2002
I could spend time talking about what belongs here and what doesn't, but why bother? Opinions are subjective and "best of" compilations rarely get it right. What matters is that Adrian Thaws has been making music for a good ten years now, and it's high time that someone put out a retrospective. This CD focuses on his years with Island, so nothing from his latest album here. It's just as well - this is a Ruff Guide, and as cool as Blowback was, the glitz and sparkle of the production didn't sit well with me. Tricky's music is best when it contains grit, and the Island years brought plenty of that.
Out of the 17 tracks on this disc, six of them come from Maxinquaye. No surprise there - it was a damn good album. It was sexy, disturbing ear candy, and a very ambitious debut. Problem was that when your first album's that good, everyone expects the same for whatever comes next. And when Pre-Millennium Tension dropped, one got the feeling that the Tricky Kid couldn't have cared less. Surely this album still stirs up some controversy amongst some of his fans. It sounded vastly different from Maxinquaye at the time, but hindsight proves otherwise. Songs like "Christiansands" and "Makes We Wanna Die" run parallel to "Aftermath" and "Overcome." Martina's recitation of Chill Rob G's "Bad Dreams" and Eric B. & Rakim's "Lyrics of Fury" mirrors the cover of Public Enemy's "Black Steel" - just trade in her sugary tones for stone-faced vocals.
While both sides of his fan base championed their favorite album, Tricky continued to move further away from the sound of his debut. Thankfully, post-PMT works are represented on Ruff Guide. Contrary to popular opinion, some great songs were released after the first two albums. And how come few people talk about the Nearly God collaboration (released prior to PMT)? Despite featuring such guests as Björk, Terry Hall, Neneh Cherry, and Alison Moyet, it continues to be overlooked. "Poems" is a gorgeously tragic tune and ranks right up there with some of the best downers on Maxinquaye. Same goes for "Broken Homes" (originally from Angels With Dirty Faces), made unforgettable by P.J. Harvey's appearance. Easily the most underrated of all of his albums, Angels With Dirty Faces was miles away from the first two LPs, but still an amazing work. Juxtapose, his last for Island, was probably his weakest effort, but "For Real" was one of the few memorable cuts from that album and it's good to see it here along the rest.
Ruff Guide isn't for people who can't stop talking about his first two albums, nor is it for the hardcore fans (although some might appreciate the collection). This retrospective is for the curious onlooker who always wondered what makes Tricky's music so interesting. This is for the person who's heard a track here and there, found it to their liking, and wants to know more. Ruff Guide is a brief synopsis of the levels of Tricky's madness and what his fans find so inviting about it. Again, there are songs that should be here and others that shouldn't, but for those of us who feel as if we could do better, we're probably better off making our own compilation.