Release Date: Oct 5, 2010
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Electronic, Trip-Hop, Club/Dance
A typical Tricky album comes so overstuffed with ideas—squeaks, beats and the sound of exhaling breath assault you from all sides—that it’s often not worth the trouble it takes to listen. What a joy it is then to be presented with the simplicity of one vocal at a time sung over a basic backing track. Mixed Race brims with well-formed songs played and sung with clear-headed emotion.
In contrast to the other members of the hallowed Bristol trinity, a new Tricky album can’t exactly be called ‘long-awaited’. The extended hiatuses between Massive Attack and Portishead LPs means that each one is always an ‘event’; releasing two or three albums in the time it takes his contemporaries to find the keys to the studio, each successive Tricky album from 1998’s Angels With Dirty Faces onwards seemed to have been greeted with an ever-smaller shrug from an ever-dwindling fanbase. But whilst Tricky might have divested himself of the weight of expectation, there is still another millstone around his neck.
In 1995, it felt like hell was hiding somewhere just around the corner. Heading into middle school, in a nearly all-black school, in a nearly all-black neighborhood, I was just some timid ghost-faced kid, looking to keep my head down, to go unnoticed. These were the mid-decade years, when gang wars were circuitously waged, the years before the bottom fell out, before ’Pac and Biggie got shot down, staunching an era of bleeding wealth and unchecked aggression.
When Tricky returned from his five-year recording hiatus with the autobiographical Knowle West Boy in 2008, he proffered a hard-hitting set of songs and soundscapes comprised of originals and covers that roared with confrontational brownpunk energy. Two years on, Mixed Race is as direct as its predecessor, but sparser, more spacious, mostly low-key, and very brief (under half an hour). While its sound is still in-your-face, it's remarkable how little murk there is -- despite the layers of backing tracks.
He’s a [b]Knowle West[/b] boy when it suits, but [a]Tricky[/a]’s always been a global village citizen. His internal conflicts resulted in paranoid miasmas on an impending Y2K for 1996’s [b]‘Pre-Millennium Tension’[/b]. Nowadays, though, culture-clashing is de rigueur. So [b]‘Kingston Logic’[/b] nods to [a]Daft Punk[/a] and [a]Tricky[/a]’s current Paris occupancy, [b]‘Murder Weapon’[/b] samples the ‘Peter Gunn’ theme for some slo-mo hip-hop, [b]‘Hakim’[/b] rides an Eastern groove tailor-made for the opium den.
His vocal cords grizzled to the point at which his singing approaches incomprehensibility, Tricky has chosen to lurk in the background of his ninth album. It's deliberate, as Mixed Race sees Tricky focused on developing not his lyrics but his sound. That is one change from 2008's Knowle West Boy and there are others, such as an increase in tempo and melody, even an occasional taste for cheese.
The frustrating thing about being a Tricky fan is that he's a guy who knows damn well where his talents lie, and yet he chooses to ignore them. The list of things Tricky does poorly (rock, house, singer-songwriter pop, ska, disco, etc.) is much longer than the list of things he does well (which basically amounts to the sound he invented and perfected on the music he released between 1995 and 1999). For 10 years, he's refused to accept that an inimitable style can be a strength as much a limitation, a foundation to build from rather than something to reject as predictable.
This is part of the problem with Tricky, isn’t it? He writes club music, but he doesn’t know why, because he couldn’t care less. He entered the public consciousness via his association with Massive Attack, and now he wouldn’t be caught dead in a room with those guys. He manages the first hints of critical acclaim he’s seen in some time by opening up a tiny window into his world on Knowle West Boy, and then he shuts that window as quickly as he opened it with follow-up Mixed Race.
Dense yet accessible, fleeting but full of memorable moments. Alistair Lawrence 2010 If Mixed Race’s predecessor, 2008’s Knowle West Boy, was the album where Tricky came home, this is very much its sequel: what his creativity does now it’s back in its groove, rather than stuck in a rut. For that reason, the familiar smoky, dusty beats and siren song vocals of opener Every Day could almost sound like an alarm bell – 2003’s Vulnerable had a similarly promising start, before unravelling – were it not at the same time soothing, reassuring and, most importantly, brief.