Martina Topley-Bird played a prominent role in the success of Tricky’s first two albums, but by 1998’s Angels With Dirty Faces the voice that helped define a genre seemed to float aimlessly in and out of the trip-hop king’s paranoid soundscapes. Martina’s transparency prefigured her imminent solo effort, but it would be five years before she would present the world with Quixotic, and another full year before it would be released stateside. The album’s been renamed (Anything) and re-sequenced (the formerly-titled “Intro,” a one-minute neo-spiritual, is now the “Outro,” and three tracks have gone missing), but its showpiece remains more or less unchanged: Martina possesses one of the best female voices of the ‘90s, even if it is 2004. If Billie Holiday was alive today, this is the kind of music she’d be making—indeed, you can almost imagine her singing the words “I am too tough to die,” as Martina does on the David Holmes-produced “Too Tough To Die.” It’s difficult to reconcile the unabashed mainstream-ness of tracks like “Need One” (which features Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan of Queens of the Stoneage) and the absence of songs like the string-laden “Stevie’s (Day’s Of A Gun),” but the torchy title track and the sinister “Sandpaper Kisses” are exquisite examples of Martina’s vocal pliability and lyrical prowess (“I want the soul of something simple to take home with me,” she purrs anxiously on the latter’s creepy bridge). From the Southern-baked soul of “Soul Food” to the bluesy twang of “Lullaby,” Martina is able to stretch far beyond any of her past collaborations. And even though Tricky pops up on a handful of tracks (her coquettish performance on “Ragga” is reminiscent of the pair’s work on Maxinquaye), it’s obvious that Martina’s the one wearing the pants this time around.
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