Release Date: 01.17.03
Record label: Sanctuary Records
by: geoff ashmun
A Tricky album only begins to make sense when all the nice people have gone home. Put on your heathen cap and picture the witching hour of godless, subterranean London: The shadows morph into disfigured David Lynch characters, alleys become shady pharmaceutical venues, and somewhere out of sight Tricky’s Vulnerable is dizzying itself on a turntable. Suffice it to say, this isn’t dinner music – unless you’re Nosferatu.
Yes, the widely-regarded co-author of “trip-hop” and former Massive Attack member is nothing if not an acquired taste. Vulnerable is rife with the sort of eccentricities that have long encouraged a love-hate relationship with Tricky’s black magic – mucuous growls and impenetrable, seemingly free association lyrics dropped into a simmering vat of jungle beats, funereal keys and looped guitar tracks.
Where Tricky has flirted in the past with heavier, industrial production, Vulnerable lays down some admirably wicked, headbobbing riffs, particularly on the menacing “Moody,” which sounds nothing like the title suggests. Meanwhile the similarly guitar-charged “Wait for God” is a swampy, tense ode haunted by harmonica chirps and images of a sacrificial lamb turned vampire. “I wait for God and it’s very hard/I am the lamb I don’t understand/I suck your blood and I’m still thirsty,” Tricky spits beneath guest Costanza’s alternately puritanical and lascivious vocals.
Yet another intriguing direction on the new record is Tricky’s choice and treatment of cover songs, both of which betray by way of contrast his weakness as a lyricist and showcase his ingenuity as an arranger/producer. One of the finest numbers in The Cure’s repertoire, “Lovecats” tempers the happy-go-lovey spring fling tone of the original in favor of a different feline species, one that crouches low, slinks with the bass, claws with the percussion and curls its tail in the passing breeze of synth and keys. Robert Smith’s playful, expressive vocal embellishments are missed, but not as sorely as the lack of poignance given XTC’s pleading “Dear God.” Here Costanza’s too blonde and lusty for her own good, where P.J. Harvey or Alison Goldfrapp, both past Tricky collaborators, may have executed the same duties with more reverance and subtlety. However, she redeems herself by song’s end, gradually drawing the curtain with a simple, virtually jazz-phrased rhthym guitar.
There’s no denying Vulnerable’s many likeable attributes. But ultimately it’s a tough record to recommend without offering a whole series of caveats and half-apologies for Tricky’s idiosyncrasies. For example, there’s only thematic sense in relation to the music, which admittedly will work for many listeners. However, know that at best the lyrics alone conjure hazy, suggestive images of personal decay and at worse smack of pretentious, half-assed meditations on lust and abuse. And there’s also the all-important listenability factor. Where does a record like this fit in one’s rotation? Between Chocolate Genius’ God Music and Pretty Hate Machine? How often do you play those? Exactly. So consider yourself warned. 14-Jul-2003 9:30 AM