Release Date: 06.26.01
Record label: uni / hollywood
by: matt halverson
Being Tricky has gotten to be, well, tricky. After becoming the trip-hopper du jour in the mid-'90s on the strength of his debut album Maxinquaye, the pre-millennial producer and one-time Massive Attack collaborator was on the verge of going the way of the Y2K bug - a lot of tension over what turned out to be a lot of hype. Once hailed as a visionary for the chaotic and dark soundscapes of Maxinquaye and its follow-up Pre-Millennium Tension, he threatened to become too unwieldy and obscure on subsequent efforts for even the most forgiving trip-hop fan.
Two years after a lackluster collaboration with hip-hop producers DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill) and Grease (DMX) on Juxtapose, Tricky has tightened things up quite nicely with Blowback, an album that's at once a return to the disturbing genius of his earlier work and a glimpse in to the future of a trip-hop producer savant. A mixture of industrial grind ("Five Days"), haunting noir soundtrack fodder ("Bury the Evidence") and stark sound collages ("A Song for Yukiko"), it's proof that he's regained control of the organized absurdity that not only made him a trip-hop pioneer but nearly buried him in white noise.
Despite the disorienting evil of his parched growl, Tricky is best served when he passes the mic to the various vocalists who regularly populate his albums. In a move sure to anger Tricky-loyalists (that is, if there are any left), he's invited a troupe of pop stars as varied as Alanis Morissette and Ed Kowalczyk of Live in to the studio this time around, but their contributions stop short of bringing the words "sell out" to mind. The former is hardly recognizable in a series of ghostly wails on the piano-driven "Excess," while the latter lends an understated pop sensibility to "Evolution Revolution Love."
When he's not sharing the mic with such accessible stars, Tricky is joined by newcomer Ambersunshower and dub vocalist Hawkman. Ambershunshower is Tricky's most promising discovery since Martina Topley Bird, and her sometimes pleading, sometimes confident voice gives "You Don't Wanna" an exciting push-pull effect. Layered over a not-so-subtle sample of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)," it's a refreshingly new take on an oft-used melody. But while she succeeds in her solo roles, Hawkman offers up unintelligible reggae chants that do little more than bog down otherwise promising tracks.
Blowback may be as close as Tricky will come to remaking Maxinquaye, but it's not without an exploration of very un-Tricky-like sounds. "Girls," with Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a promising example of what the rap/rock hybrid could have spawned. Kiedis moves deftly between slinging verses with Tricky and singing the chorus over Frusciante's unrelenting fuzz and distortion. Frusciante's second appearance on the album, this time alongside bandmate Flea, comes on "#1 Da Woman," an unexpected stab at happy - almost campy - radio-ready pop rock; the irony of his question "Would you love me / if I had more fame" at the song's close is no doubt intended.
Whether he's learned from his brush with complete obscurity or this is merely a respite between increasingly inaccessible art-house experiments, Tricky's proven that he can still conjure up relevant trip-hop explorations.