“You don’t really know me,” says Tricky, concerning his decision to title his 11th full-length album after his birth name. Dangerous words, especially considering he used similar rhetoric upon introducing Blowback, Vulnerable, and False Idols. It seems like the music world will never really understand Tricky, but that’s the name of the game with the man who revels in the dirty and dusty parts of the back alley.
For anyone who’s followed Tricky over his nearly three decade-long career – or at least had their requisite Maxinquaye fascination – Adrian Thaws is no new kind of story. Seeing as how Tricky’s definitive trip-hop style has been copied, expanded, and adopted by hundreds of artists, it’s only natural that his new album isn’t boundary-pushing.
No tribal percussion or Smashing Pumpkins samples this time around: Adrian Thaws revolves around club beats and distinctly low-tempo bass-heavy productions. It’s certainly one of the more accessible and, quite frankly, poppier releases that he’s put out, but by no means does this detract from the sound. If anything, Tricky simply proves his continued relevancy and adeptness as synthesizing current trends in his signature form. Check out lead single Nicotine Love, which would be right at home in London’s KOKO. There’s also the downtempo Keep Me In Your Shake, featuring Nneka, whose acoustic guitar lead is classic Nearly God material and oscillating electronics are a better synthesis of dub than Radiohead’s recent singles.
This album’s Martina Topley-Bird analogue is Tirzah. Hell, she has the exact same accent and young-hearted but well-experienced delivery as Topley-Bird demonstrated on Maxinquaye’s Overcome and Ponderosa. Opening track Sun Down is a club beat with classic soundtrack-style samples (hey there, Portishead!), and Tirzah is immensely appealing. Fans of Tricky’s older discography will take some time warming up to her. Not because she’s too different, but because she’s too similar and it’s jarring. Francesca Belmonte’s appearances on Something In The Way and I Had A Dream are much more refreshing.
Tricky states that Adrian Thaws should be played loud, and that’s a true statement if there ever were one. This is his club album, no doubt about that – it’s the closest he’s ever come to these sounds since Pre-Millennium Tension. There’s quite a few parallels there, actually: I Had A Dream brings back She Makes Me Wanna Die and Bad Things. Tricky demonstrated his appreciation for Eric B And Rakim by covering Lyrics Of Fury, and that influence is totally felt on Lonnie Listen. My Palestine Girl is Bad Things and Sex Drive all over again, and wow, that’s the kind of track that took the pants off of men and women back in the day.
Things get awkward fast on Why Don’t You. Bella Gotti’s guest appearance is strikingly hot, but the chorus “why don’t you go and get fucked” is immature songwriting. Don’t try to be edgy, Tricky. This is the guy who snuck “I fuck you in the ass / just for a laugh” in the sultriest way possible two decades prior. Album closer Silly Games is a substandard slow-jam track that isn’t Piano or Yoga; previous cut I Had A Dream does a much better job. The call for revolution in The Unloved halfway skit is, umm, about two decades late to appear on a trip-hop album. Tricky is still stuck in a bygone era that’s been haunting him for the last eight albums.
But if new listeners want to catch a glimpse of the reason the old ones keep coming back for Tricky releases, check out the closing skit When You Go. Don’t let the 45 seconds dissuade; the phrase “I miss you / and I’m alone” is a crystal of authenticity – and listen closely to the upturn of melody in the male vocals. Tricky built himself on a no-nonsense persona for the last 12 tracks, let alone his discography, and it’s surpassingly intimate to hear him admit that it’s not all clubs and games, but that he might be alone in the middle of the crowd.