Named after a term used for trained assassins he heard in a documentary on espionage, Skilled Mechanics sees trip-hop trailblazer Tricky assemble his own killer team for the most collaborative studio effort of his lengthy career.
Some of those on board are no stranger to the world of Adrian Thaws, including regular vocalist Francesca Belmonte who lends her sultry tones to the eerie synth-balladry of “We Begin,” drummer Luke Harris who swaps the sticks for the microphone on a haunting piano-led cover version of Corey Taylor’s “Bother,” and fellow Bristolian DJ Milo who serves as producer on five of the album’s 13 tracks.
But it’s the new recruits who make the most notable impression. Kooky Danish chanteuse Oh Land sets the bewitching tone on the creepy beatless opener “I’m Not Going,” newcomer Xdare suggests FKA twigs may soon have some tough competition with the breathless alt-R&B of closer “Unreal,” while Chinese rapper Ivy also makes the most of her guest spot on the globe-trotting hip-hop of “Beijing to Berlin.”
As with his recent prolific output, Skilled Mechanics also proves that even at the age of 47 and with 11 albums to his name, Tricky remains anything but predictable. “Diving Away” finds him transforming the tortured alt-rock of Porno for Pyros’ “Porpoise Head” into a twinkling lullaby, while the sci-fi doom of “Necessary” is interspersed with the cover of Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” that appeared on his last record.
Not all of Tricky’s wild ideas pay off, however. “How’s Your Life” is a slightly misguided attempt at the kind of slinky Quiet Storm you’d expect to hear blaring out of an 80s-style cocktail bar, and the pedestrian techno of “Here My Dear” shows why he’s never become a dancefloor regular.
But although Skilled Mechanics doesn’t always see Tricky firing on all cylinders, it’s still another highly intriguing piece of work which suggests that he should embrace its team mentality more often.