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Martina Topley-Bird Quixotic Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Everyone's been wondering where on earth she'd got to. As such, the weight of...

Sue Keogh 2003

It's been eight years since Martina Topley-Bird was pushed into the murky spotlight of Bristol's trip hop scene by former Massive Attack vocalist Tricky on his landmark solo album Maxinquaye. The combination of the West Country boy's dope-scarred growl and his partner's sultry and weary vocal delivery felt new and exciting, and very English. After performing on his next two albums, their musical relationship ended in 1998 and since then everyone's been wondering where on earth she'd got to. As such, the weight of expectation surrounding Topley-Bird's first solo effort is huge.

Four very laidback years in the making, one wonders if someone in the Independiente office had to hurry her up a bit in the last few months to make sure it hit the Mercury Prize deadline. Somehow Quixotic was always going to be on the list - it's just one of those albums by one of those artists - yet compared to releases by similarly default Mercury Prize nominees, Coldplayand Radiohead, it's a far more intriguing piece.

On first listen it is the simple and more restrained tracks that stand out; the shimmering "Sandpaper Kisses", "Lullaby", with its sugar-coated remonstrations (There's a fairytale/ You never learned to read or write/ Oyster pearl/ You never dared to look inside) and new single, "Anything". Supported by an elegant string arrangement, Topley-Bird's voice trembles as she pleads I dont want anything...but you, and it's just beautiful.

In "Soulfood" and other places it does go too deep into Morcheeba territory but fortunately there are enough moments of screaming guitar to prevent it from becoming mere dinner party music fodder. Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme and vocalist Mark Lanegan help her rock out on "Need One", and where she collaborates with DJ/producer David Holmes (Too Tough To Die, I Wanna Be There) and soundtrack artist David Arnold, ("Stevies (Days Of A Gun)") the tone becomes harder and the beat becomes ever more pounding. She and Tricky have patched up their friendship and on "Ragga" he proves that he's as keen to talk dirty as ever. He's such a bad influence, that boy.

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