/ Aftermath, Nyeeve Records, 1993
If ever a song was about life, love and death, this is it. The label is Nyeeve, the catalogue no. NAIF 27168 – the date that a certain council estate superstar was born – and the record credits Self-preservation Productions. But only in Tricky’s universe could such a song be ascribed as having a mellow version, and only in his world could it apply to the cut which makes it explicit that the aftermath we’re talking about is that following a nuclear strike.
Tricky’s premise is ill-founded, as he probably knew. A mile or two west of the Knowle West estate there used to be a Nuclear Electric depot, which almost certainly means that no-one would be crawling out of the devastation wrought by a nuclear bomb so near its likely epicentre, not even Tricky Kid and his muse Martina.
There are at least four versions of ‘Aftermath’. The single was remixed and re-released after Tricky had signed to Fourth & Broadway. The ‘Hip hop blues’ version (also the one used on Maxinquaye) is cleaner, crunchier, punchier than the Nyeeve A side, though that could just be the pressing. The ‘I could be looking for people remix’ is a radical reworking by Howie B with Tricky and Martina’s dual vocal standing up disjunctively against the loop. The Fourth & Broadway B side, ‘Version 1’ (suggesting it was the first of the variants cut) is most like the ‘Mellow version’, but Tricky sounds thinner as he narrates his story, more distant and ethereal. Though ‘Aftermath’ was co-produced by Blue lines engineer Kevin Petrie, the sleeve of the Fourth & Broadway release offers ‘thanx and respect to Mark Stewart’, the Pop Group / Maffia maestro who is arguably the source from which all subsequent Bristolian beats flow, suggesting he had more than a hand in helping Tricky find his way.
Deadly deep sub-frequencies are the gates to this particular version and vision of the apocalypse. A sampled cut-up voice sings ‘Oce-anna’, suggesting that large parts of the world, if not the seafaring port of Bristol, have been subject to tsunami and flood. Then Tricky lets loose another sample (this one from Blade runner) – ‘Let me tell you about my mother’ – there, right at the start of his solo work, shortly to be placed at the heart of Maxinquaye, the root of his inspiration: the mother who killed herself when he was four. Like John Lennon and his mother Julia, it’s clear that – inevitably – her death, her absence, has had a powerful psychological impact and has been the major motivation and shaper of his art. So ‘Aftermath’ conflates both global devastation and the nuclear event at the heart of his own early life. For Tricky, everything, from almost the earliest moments of individuality, is the aftermath.
The beat begins to loop or freewheel back on itself as Martina Topley-Bird introduces herself. It’s the first time that Martina has sung, and somehow she gives as natural performance as any studio novice has ever hit upon, so light, aerated and effortless. Simultaneously youthful and wise, carefree and careworn, her vocals are as the label suggests, ‘honeycoated’; Martina might never have sung again and be happy having graced this one song alone. Armed with experience gained in helping Massive Attack realise a ground-breaking album, this also the first time Tricky has been in a studio in his own right, but immediately his approach is intuitive, alive with possibility and invention.
Now the pair intertwine and echo each other, vocalising in their respective fashions:
‘Your eyes resemble mine you’ll see as no others can
You’ll inherit my kingdom speak other people’s plans
I’ll be here for my baby for my baby I’ll be near
So many things I need to tell you things you need to hear’
A producer in the process of finding his performing self, Tricky speaks his lines, rejecting all rapping templates; here he is midway between the unvarnished Bristolian you hear on ‘Blue lines’ (the track) and the out-and-out dramatization of the asthmatic ‘Vent’ and the dyspeptic ‘Tricky Kid’ on Pre-millennium tension. Some reedy flute from Bristol player Tony Wrafter drifts across the devastation, which as we have established, Tricky has miraculously survived. The flute, the snatches of sampled speech, a beat of similar tempo and bass with the same pulsing tone unite ‘Aftermath’ with DJ Shadow’s ‘In/flux’, released the same year. But while ‘In/flux’ has aged over the past fifteen years, its beats sounding a little ordinary and pedestrian largely as a result of how frequently Shadow’s technique has subsequently been copied, ‘Aftermath’ has grown richer with time, no less strange and its foreboding no less relevant as we head towards the environmental and political heat of the middle of the twenty-first century. Tricky brings all our eighties Cold War, CND and Threads-inspired dread to bear as he narrates:
‘It was a day like no other
Clocks said nought
It was said they dropped the bomb
And I walked out the door
Feeling lonely isolated
Thinking of what was wont
So I go in search of people
A sign of inhabitant
Air is thick with chemicals
So this is the aftermath
Walking over rubble
Which once was ?Colston’s caff
Down to the centre, which used to be central
They took from me my family
They killed my…’
It’s hard to decipher the next word, but it sounds like ‘parental’.
And then Martina sings, innocent and insouciant: ‘So this is the aftermath’.
These randomly-ordered cyclical verses, this bass-heavy looping like the crunching tread of boots through a city in ruins, combine to make music which is an artistic match for Cormac McCarthy’s The road, wherein the remnants of the world following an unspecified global disaster are imagined in devastating detail. At the heart of each, the suicide of a mother.