“Black Steel” wasn’t the first Tricky track that I’d heard, nor the first Public Enemy cover, but it was the first of both that made me, on first listen, pretty much jump up from my chair and wonder what the fuck was I listening to, and make me wish I could rewind the live TV in front of me (Oh, TiVo, if only you’d existed twenty years earlier). I was entranced, astounded and decided that I would buy the album as soon as I had the chance, which would have to be after the weekend I was going to spend at a friend’s parents as part of a… birthday party, I think? Maybe I’m mixing up reasons and events in my brain. Nevertheless, on one incomplete hearing, “Black Steel” stayed playing in my brain for the three hours or so it took me to get to said friend’s parents’ house, a continual loop of my memory’s version of the song with me knowing that it was completely lacking the… what, the synthetic passion of the arrangement, the detached disdain of the vocals, the way it felt different from everything else I was listening to at the time? All of that, perhaps.
I got to the friends’, and asked if anyone else knew the song or listened to Tricky and was given the kind of response you’d expect from the Britpop-centric crowd we were that day (which is to say, “Tricky who? Isn’t he one of those Trip-Hop people?”). For the next two days, in amongst real life, the riff played in my head at low volume. I bought the album soon after, and realized that I didn’t even like the song that much in comparison with everything else on there.