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Martina Topley-Bird - Quixotic


Review: Jack Foley

VERY few debut albums arrive with the weight of expectation reserved for Martina Topley-Bird's Quixotic.

Having made a name for herself as Tricky's better half, on the genre-defining album, Maxinquaye, she then parted company and has spent the past seven years waiting to unleash her solo work upon an expectant fanbase.

The debut single, Need One, whetted the appetite still further, with its heady mix of sultry vocals and aggressive beats, set against the lumbering rock of Josh (Queens of the Stone Age) Homme's guitars.

Clearly, with her husky, laidback style, Martina was a female artist to watch - and the resulting album merely serves to confirm her reputation as one of the brightest divas of her generation.

Mixing a number of different styles, Quixotic is probably not going to be the album many were expecting.

Yet its quality is unmistakable, thanks in no small part to the quality of its collaborators - which include Tricky (of course), David Holmes and James Bond composer, David Arnold.

It's also a great deal more moody than some might have guessed, filled with atmospheric grooves and beats which seem designed to bring out the best in that husky style.

Take the gospel-inspired Soul Food, for example, which harks back to the Northern Soul/Motown era, which benefits greatly from Arnold's sweeping orchestration, lending the track a classic, retro feel.

Or Anything, in which Martina's seductive tones excite in the same way as Morcheeba's Skye when you first heard them.

Lullaby is another excellent showcase for her vocal style, at times girlish, yet always bluesy, and possessing a hypnotic value that makes it ideal to listen to on a hot summer's day, or an equally sweaty evening in the Deep South.

The David Holmes school of fusing blues samples with some really dirty, truly funky slide guitars, adds a touch of class to the rousing, tough as nails, Too Tough To Die, while Tricky gets in on the act with the slightly warped love song, Ragga, in which Martina speaks of doing things she wouldn't normally do when it comes to her lover's touch.

Elsewhere, the supremely seductive Lying comes across like a bluesy daydream, with its lazy beats, Arnold-esque keyboards and jazz-based backdrop; while Stevie's (Days of a Gun) brings the album to a suitably grandiose, sweeping finale (Arnold-style), befitting much of the mood which has come before it.

Given the diversity on show, it is little wonder to report that the album occasionally falls under the weight of its own ambition, particularly during the up-tempo I Wanna Be There, during which her voice seems to get lost amid Holmes's frenetic beats and breaks. Or that it may take a couple of listens before you properly get into it.

But this is a small price to pay for a debut album that drips class. Do not let it pass you by.

Track listing:
1. Intro
2. Need One
3. Anything
4. Soul Food
5. Lullaby
6. Too Tough To Die
7. Sandpaper Kisses
8. Ragga Feat. Tricky
9. Lying
10. I Still Feel
11. Llya
12. I Wanna Be There
13. Day's Of A Gun

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