Tricky's False Idols, his tenth album, will likely be heralded as a comeback. I hope that isn't the case.
Which is not to say the new record from the trip-hop innovator fails to live up to his '90s peaks. It does. It's fantastic. It revisits those old dark nightclubs dug from the dirt, those gummy hashish loops and sexy purrs heard on Nearly God and Pre-Millennium Tension. It reminds you that Tricky is one of the coolest motherfuckers given to pop music in the last quarter century. It reminds you why he was cast as an alien in The Fifth Element and poised to evolve rap into something more seductive and futuristic. It samples Chet Baker and has a lovely interlude in Mandarin. However, the praise of False Idols should not overshadow the fact that Tricky has been on an overlooked hot streak. Knowle West Boy (2008) and Mixed Race (2010) looked back to the 45-year-old's roots in punk and reggae, and solved the hammy production problems that dogged his mid-career work, Blowback and Vulnerable.
Francesca Belmonte, 24, is the latest ingenue playing the Martina Topley-Bird role, the vital breathy foil to Tricky's mumbled rasps. Tricky has rarely played the lead in his albums. Oddly, they're better when he doesn't, when he lurks in the shadows, trailing his female costars as a voyeur, inner demon, stalker, fuck buddy. Often, it sounds as if he's creeped into someone else's song, turning a slightly menacing slow-jam into something far more spine-tingling. Where does he keep digging up these smoky-voiced female singers? What is he, Prince?
The tracks with Belamonte, like most of the record, are clean, deep and sparse—some of the most direct contemporary pop music Tricky has crafted. He's compared Idols to his stellar debut, Maxinquaye, going so far to say it's a better album, as aging musicians tend to do, but the brighter simplicity of the new cuts more closely resembles the chrome-coasted boutique dub of the Bristol-native's old partners Massive Attack. In fact, it should satisfy old-school Massive Attack fans more than the last couple of Massive Attack LPs.
The opening "Someone's Sins" repeats a line from Patti Smith: "Jesus died for someone's sins, but not mine." Reappropriation is common practice for Tricky, who in the past has taken bits from Public Enemy, Daft Punk, Kylie Minoque, XTC and Nirvana. The covers reveal his real knack: He can lift ideas from other people and barely reveal his presence on a track, yet it all becomes unmistakably, irresistibly a Tricky tune.
Tricky plays Metro Jun 17.