It’s tricky to rock a rhyme. And it was Tricky, through his pioneering work with Massive Attack and his own great solo stuff, who taught us that sound texture can be just as crucial to a song as beats ‘n’ hooks, that sluggish tempos can make for emotionally gripping music. Martina Topley-Bird made these lessons palatable. Her diamond-in-the-rough voice provided blessed aural relief from Tricky’s Dunhill mumble on Tricky’s first three albums. After 1998’s Angels with Dirty Faces, Topley-Bird struck out on her own. A mere five years later, she released her debut, Quixotic, in the U.K., where it was rapturously received by a typically hyperbolic British press.
Anything is Quixotic, only it’s the U.S. version, with a couple missing songs and freshly re-jiggered track sequence that sticks the original album’s intro onto the end and renames it “Outro.” (Thanks go to the good people at Palm Pictures, who clearly understand more about how album intros and outros affect the American record-buying public than I do). New opener “Anything” is a good ‘un, pretty and spacey and delicate like Air’s first album. She reunites with Tricky on “Ragga,” where she lets her loose, liquid voice run all over a sinister beat. A you-gotta-believe anthem called “Need One” features a chorus I can only describe as “soaring.” Thankfully, Thesaurus.com knows more words than I do: How about bouncy, spirited, vivacious, imperial, transcendent?
Point is, Topley-Bird rocks a whole bunch of styles on Anything, from soft and pretty to dark and edgy to forceful and positive, and she does them so confidently you can’t help but root for her. She’s a talent. But this album isn’t quite worthy of her gifts. She spreads herself too thin, and this dilettantish, gimmegimmegimme approach to album making results in a lack of that standout track that makes you sit up and take notice (though the forceful and positive “Too Tough to Die” is prit-tee close). Then again, Topley-Bird wasn’t wholly responsible for the making of this album (thanks again, Palm Pictures), so we’ll see next time. Watch this girl.