Release Date: Sep 8, 2014
Record label: !K7
Genre(s): Electronic, Alternative/Indie Rock
Somehow, Tricky, aka Adrian Thaws – for that is he – has reached album 11. Where other rappers and MCs choose to hide behind alter egos and masks both metaphysical and physical (hi, DOOM!), our Bristolian hero now trades, refreshingly, on his actual name – and on one of the most convincing and coherent releases of his career. From the unashamedly blunt, fast hip-hop of Gangster Chronicle and Why Don’t You (featuring UK grime newcomer Bella Gotti) to the sublime, slow, Maxinquaye-indebted Keep Me In Your Shake, Thaws/Tricky/whatever you want to call him delivers a sonically balanced and wonderfully playful, edgy set o f tracks.
As the calendar turned to 2014, rapper, producer, and trip-hop icon Tricky had spent a couple years decrying his classic 1995 debut Maxinquaye, calling it a directionless "coffee-table album," as if it were up to him. Like 2013's False Idols, Adrian Thaws (Tricky's real name) is further proof that the man's ideas about what's good for his future are inversely proportional to his awareness of what's good from his past. This grooving, shifting, murky mix of menace and darkness borrows from the current landscape of pop as few earlier albums do, and borrows with love and admiration, as the bubbling techno of "Nicotine Love" and the A$AP Mob-style beats of key cut "Lonnie Listen" ("I work out everyday and I'm still not fit/My kids are hungry and I ain't got shit") feel all the way live and vital.
While other trip-hop survivors – DJ Shadow, for example – have recently offered their takes on current trends (juke in his case), Tricky is sticking to his own path. He has managed to refresh that sound without coming across as forced, and has wisely cherry-picked contemporary talent with rappers Mykki Blanco and Bella Gotti, juxtaposed and paired with London-based vocalist Tirzah – who impressed with her No Romance EP earlier in the year – and Francesca Belmonte's silky hooks. From opener Sun Down, you're transported to Tricky's world.
Maxinquaye is really good, but I’d bet that if you actually dust it off and listen to it, you won’t enjoy it any more or less than Adrian Thaws. In a lot of recent press coverage of Tricky’s new album, there’s a very faintly implied desire for him to have disappeared after Maxinquaye instead of continuing to release similar music at a respectable rate, because the music press operates in accordance with cycles and seasons, and hopes to be able to keep things reasonably fresh from one season to the next. Musicians don’t work that way.
You never know exactly what you are getting yourself into when you plop the new Tricky record on the turntable. Mercurial, inconsistent, and relentlessly inventive, Tricky, aka Tricky Kid, aka Adrian Thaws, has never been content with a single style, sound, collaborator, or collaborators. Every new release shows the listener a new side of his rambling, disoriented, compelling mind.
You never know what to expect from Tricky, whose oeuvre ranges from ghastly (Angels With Dirty Faces) to groundbreaking (Maxinquaye) by way of several so-so affairs. Pleasingly, his 11th album, on which he’s assisted by some impressive guests (Tirzah, Francesca Belmonte, Mykki Blanco), finds the rapper at his most quietly menacing. In fact, at times Tricky’s barely there at all, content to orchestrate Adrian Thaws’ stark beats, the best of which recall his mid-90s peak.
For most of his periodically illustrious career, Tricky’s music has been the stuff of smoke-filled rooms and post-club paranoia. ‘Adrian Thaws’ however, is billed as a club/hip-hop album, which makes you wonder what kind of bizarre nightspots Tricky frequents. At best (‘Nicotine Love’) the results sound like a chopped and screwed take on electroclash, all unhurried beats, dread synths and Tricky’s phlegmy whisper.
After nearly 30 years in the game, you'd think Tricky might have run out of statements to make, but that wouldn't be very Tricky, now would it? The trip-hop pioneer, and one of its few remaining survivors, has always been a singular and contentious figure within the music industry, one that never shies away from making bold statements, both verbal and musical. Ahead of the release of his 11th studio album, Adrian Thaws, he proclaimed that self-titling his new album was "saying you don't really know me," and that "people have tried to put a finger on me and every album I go to a different place"; fair enough, but only if it were true. When "Nicotine Love," featuring False Idols collaborator and Adrian Thaws' biggest asset Francesca Belmonte, was released in June, it completely embodied the sense of Tricky embracing the current musical environment and making it his own, but it's sadly only a taste of what the record could have been.
It would be easy to relegate this Bristol-bred emcee to a very compartmentalized and sometimes incorrect intellectual place—"trip hop," "Bristol sound," and "ex-Massive Attack" are silly buzzwords that try to draw some arbitrary (if momentarily helpful) links between Tricky's music and the specific cultural moment from which it came. Distinctions like these, however, don't really mean much other than what has been hashed to death over 20 years in the music press—he and his cohorts paved a new road for electronica and hip-hop out of Britain, and they've continued making solid records that further that imprint. Remove yourself from this chatter, and the sort-of-self-titled Adrian Thaws (Tricky's legal name) is a positive evolutionary step for an artist whose sound otherwise defies easy categorization.
Tricky albums are rarely what they seem on the surface. The decision to use his birth name as the title of this record suggests something confessional after years of cloudy rumination, hinting at a genuine departure. Tricky even refers to it as his "least introspective" work. The reality is somewhat different, with a familiar world-weariness setting in, varying genre tropes getting applied then discarded, and a handful of guests coloring songs in around the edges.
Tricky's 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, and follow-up Pre-Millennium Tension were two of the best and most influential albums of their era. But since then, he's repeatedly tried (and mostly failed) to prove he can do more than the grim, claustrophobic experimental hip-hop he's loved for. It's understandable that he doesn't want to endlessly repeat his 90s triumphs.
Pioneering trip-hop maverick Tricky has had an indelible mark on British music, and, to be honest, electronic music as a whole by this point in 2014. Hailing from Knowle West (Bristol), Adrian Thaws – both his given name and the title of his upcoming tenth studio record – helped bring the ‘Bristol sound’ into the mainstream, alongside Portishead, Lamb, and former outfit, Massive Attack. These days, you can’t move for trip-hop inspired electro wizards or noir&B corsairs.