Once part of the holy trinity of Bristol trip-hop alongside Portishead and Massive Attack, Tricky has since tainted his legacy with a string of twenty-first century releases that were either unfocused, self-indulgent or both, and a bizarre mumbling appearance at Beyonce’s Glastonbury set which he went onto admit was the most embarrassing moment of his life.
Expectations for False Idols, his tenth studio effort and the first on his own label, therefore, aren’t exactly sky high. But out of nowhere, Tricky has delivered his best and most melodic record since his seminal 1995 debut, Maxinquaye.
Joined by an array of sultry female vocalists, all of whom are more than capable replacements for Martina Topley-Bird, the 41-year-old’s state of mind still appears as paranoid as ever, as evident on opener “Somebody’s Sins,” a noirish take on Patti Smith’s “Gloria” which sees him dismiss the whole notion of religion with his trademark menacing whisper; the Chet Baker-sampling “Valentine”; and the claustrophobic anti-love song “Does It” (“I wouldn’t be dead caught in love”).
But amidst all the doom and gloom, there’s a playfulness here which has been sorely lacking from Tricky’s recent fare. “Is That Your Life” contains the kind of funky disco riff that Nile Rodgers would be proud of; the disjointed acid-house of “Hey Love” is perhaps the closest he’s ever got to a club banger; and the polished tribal pop of “Nothing Matters” would probably be a hit if it had been recorded by someone who hadn’t spent the last 18 years being so deliberately abrasive.
The mellow acoustic folk of “Chinese Interlude,” which sounds like it’s been lifted from a twee mobile phone advert aimed at hipsters, is perhaps one experiment too far. Elsewhere, the interpolation of Pre-Millennium Tension’s “Makes Me Wanna Die” on “Nothing’s Changed” feels like a slightly regressive move.
But with the likes of Lana Del Rey and Emeli Sandé bringing trip-hop back to the masses, False Idols is still a perfectly-timed return-to-form which should finally put a halt to Tricky’s talent-wasting decline.