If you look at a picture of Tricky where he’s staring at the camera, it’s like looking at a black version of Keith Richards. You just know the dude has plenty of stories to tell and has more swagger in his pinky than you have in your whole body. Admittedly, he seemed to have lost his way a bit over the past ten years, though still producing output. On his tenth album, he’s back with all of the things that made him a pioneer of the trip-hop scene back in the mid-90’s.
Maxinquaye, was a homage to his mother and a contemplation on spirituality as it pertained to his world view. The same can be inferred on much of this body of work. For this record, Tricky (Adrian Thaws) pairs nicely with the feminine vocal counterparts of Nneka Egbuna, Fifi Rong, and Francesca Belmonte. Their contributions are just as much a part of (and one might argue just as critical to) his song structures as any other component.
These combined effects as well as a new label have resulted in a looser, yet more focused Tricky album than in recent years. Regardless of whether you like religion in your lyrics, Tricky doesn’t shy away from it, tackling the subject head on with a re-envisioning of Van Morrison’s ‘Somebody’s Sins.’ The track also directly tackles the intent of the album’s title. Morrison’s lyrics take responsibility for one’s own actions. Verses like ‘my sins are my own/they belong to me,’ ‘life is just rules and regulations to me,’ and a chorus of ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine’ express more than a mild indifference to the entity upstairs…regardless of where upstairs is.
The vibrancy of the second track ‘Nothing Matters,’ matches some of his best work with enriched beats, while ‘Valentine,’ reminds one of early tracks like ‘Ponderosa,’ as Tricky’s gravel-dusted vocals slither through the verses. ‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ is classic ‘gangster,’ Tricky — if Slick Rick ever did trip-hop…this is what it would sound like.
‘Parenthesis’ is actually a cover of an Antlers tune. Tricky drops a beat and a sinister couple of keyboard lines to Peter Silberman’s falsetto vocals and brings the guitars to the forefront in the chorus, creating an all together different vibe from the original track. He continues his re-constructionist ways on ‘Nothing’s Changed,’ which goes back to Pre-Millenium Tension and lyrically unearths his classic with Martina Topley-Bird, “Makes Me Wanna Die.” This update is replete with a string-sectioned intro and a drumbeat that reminds me of U2’s ‘Please.’
Adrian shares co-writing credits with newcomer Fifi Rong on ‘If Only I Knew,’ and it basically feels like Trent Reznor giving up control to wife Marqueen Maandig for the How to Destroy Angels project – i.e. lay a phoned-in beat down on a track with a yawner of a vocalist. By contrast, ‘Is That Your Life,’ is a track with a musical swagger that matches the lyrical flow of Francesca Belmonte. Thaws drops in a verse but the track is funky even without him.
‘Tribal Drums,’ is another pairing between Belmonte and Thaws. There is a voodoo-spiritual vibe on this track as evidenced in the refrain ‘evil come and evil go…’
‘We Don’t Die’ is the fence-swinger on the album. Once again the breathless vocals of either Belmonte or Egbuna are laid to tape as Tricky pairs his intonations of the chorus right up against the female vocal to give the effect that he’s literally right behind them. The music is fairly simple – a drum track, an errant string, and a sparse keyboard. The sum effect, however, is greater than the individual parts – one of Tricky’s greatest strengths, when he’s on.
‘Chinese Interlude’ I swear to God uses a Jack Johnson sample – if not for that, I’d probably skip over it.
‘Does It’ rolls on the back of a steady bass line, and has a complete DIY-Punk feel to it highlighted by the refrain of ‘Where all the protesters/the slogans and signs/this will be a swift decline/I wouldn’t be caught dead in love.’
‘I’m Ready’ is a toss away – both musically and lyrically bland save for the understated dub reggae bass line in the outro.
‘Hey Love’ features a ‘Gorillaz-like’ keyboard sample, behind propulsive beats that should have served as this album’s closer. Instead, Tricky elects to tackle religion one more time on the formal closer, ‘Passion of the Christ.’ Over morose strings and a steady drum track, Thaws lays down verses concerned with a God that does come.
I call this ‘surface-to-air,’ music. It’s basically mood or groove driven. It doesn’t stay with you long like some albums do. You play it out for a week or two and then the next thing comes along. I am wont to visit Tricky’s catalog at any given time if I’m looking for a trip-hop vibe. This album definitely takes listeners back to his Halcyon days….not a bad place if you’re a fan of either the genre or the artist – who is far from false on anything he accomplishes on this record.