As everyone knows by now, Tricky’s 1995 solo debut Maxinquaye is an absolutely phenomenal record, not just one of trip-hop’s defining albums but the decade’s as a whole. This has since been followed by a series of varying degrees of diminished returns, so it was with more than a little suspicion that Rocksucker greeted his assertion that tenth LP False Idols is superior.
It bears comparison insomuch as a) it’s as smoked-out and slow-grooving as you might expect from a Tricky record, and b) he lurks in the shadows for the first few tracks, as he did behind the sultry voice of Martina Topley-Bird all those years ago, before finally allowing his inimitable flow to take centre stage on “My Funny Valentine”.
His voice seems to have descended from sensual throatiness into a menacing husk and, whether by dint of lyrical content or its musical surroundings, it just doesn’t register as imperiously as it once did. Thinking on, Tricky might have done better to indulge himself more rather than slalom in and out of a procession of guest vocalists – Francesca Belmonte, Fifi Rong, Nneka and Peter Silberman of The Antlers – each of whom do little wrong but equally little to illuminate the predictable tide of dark intensity, loping beats, ominous tribal percussion and throbbing/driving bass.
“Bonnie & Clyde” is not a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg classic but a fairly innocuous, Tricky-by-numbers shagging soundtrack, perfunctorily fulfilling its purpose without ever really making it clear why it was necessary for it to be made. “Parenthesis” is pretty good courtesy of Silberman’s ghostly vocal – indeed, the song is a reworking of The Antlers’ “Parentheses” (plural) – and a sudden interjection of dirty sludge guitar to meet the clacking groove head on. Dig the Maxinquaye-esque monotone string tension, too.
“Nothing’s changed / I still feel the same” sings Belmonte on “Nothing’s Changed”, in what feels a bit like a justification for using the same old formular. Some dolorous heaves of cello here elevate it slightly beyond the humdrum, and the sweet, twinkly “Chinese Interlude” brings about the first real shift in atmosphere some fifteen tracks in. Tricky continues to chip in with some worthwhile moments on False Idols, but the permanent class struggles to break out from the confines of temporary form.
Rocksucker says: Two and a Half Quails out of Five!
False Idols is out now on False Idols.
For more information, please visit the official Tricky website.