What better way to create buzz for your album than to compare it to your debut when your debut is arguably one of the greatest of all time? Tricky has stated that his new record, False Idols (whose namesake is his new label) is a better record than Maxinquaye, his seminal mid-’90s trip-hop opus. Is Tricky right? Simply, no. Is he onto something? Not even close. Does False Idols establish Tricky as relevant again? Yes, certainly; his best album since 2008’s underrated Knowle West Boy, and perhaps his best since the untouchable Maxinquaye, False Idols confidently returns to a simpler, yet contemporary version of Tricky’s working formula.
False Idols immediately captures the listener’s attention for two main reasons. First and foremost, it begins with the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” the same line that begins Patti Smith’s Horses. In other words, after comparing False Idols to his own classic album, with lead track Somebody’s Sins, he echoes another. To throw another wrench into the mix, the first voice heard on Somebody’s Sins is not Tricky’s but rather that of sultry London singer Francesca Belmonte, featured on four of False Idol’s tracks. While Tricky often hides behind female singers, you’d expect him to announce his self-described masterpiece, well, himself.
Yet, Somebody’s Sins’ effectiveness comes from its surprise, especially considering the hubbub surrounding False Idols’ release and Tricky’s correspondingly dubious claims. Hearing Belmonte echo Smith immediately makes the listener forget about the context that might otherwise have distracted attention away from the music. Independent of the quality of Somebody’s Sins, a fairly by-the-numbers Tricky track, it is a sly move on Tricky’s behalf, one that keeps you on your toes for the rest of the album.
Immediately after Somebody’s Sins comes the sensual skronk of Nothing Matters, and then on Valentine, Tricky’s trademark detached, wispy singing style over a loop of Chet Baker’s love woes. Another gloriously used sample is that of The Antlers’ Peter Silberman’s unmistakable wail on Parenthesis, a “cover” of The Antlers track of the same name. Despite the funk metal guitar riff of The Antlers version further emphasized on Tricky’s treatment, Parenthesis is essentially what you would expect a trip-hop remix of The Antlers would sound like, and all for the better: Silberman’s crying, fragile falsetto beautifully contrasts Tricky’s mumble and dark beats.
Meanwhile, the soulful Bonnie & Clyde is yet another example of Tricky explicitly referencing an indispensable piece of pop culture. This time, however, he’s not using pop culture as a distractor, as on Somebody’s Sins, but rather as a lens by which to explore a specific type of strut-worthy music, and one with a contemporary beat twist. In fact, virtually none of the beats on False Idols are purely or unmistakably trip-hop (besides that on If I Only Knew), but they still accomplish the sinister, grey sex appeal of some of the best trip hop.
Most extremely anti-trip hop in aesthetic is Is That Your Life, a repetitive funk-rap track, but in philosophy or aims, Is That Your Life’s aura comes from its threatening nature, much like some of Tricky’s trip hop classics. Bass-clap single Does It is also not at all trip hop, but unlike Bonnie & Clyde or Is That Your Life, Does It is wholeheartedly contemporary. On the track, Belmonte repeats “I wouldn’t be caught dead in love”; she sings each word with an equal ambivalence and lack of emotion, as if to not only fit in with today’s singing trends across many genres of music but to prevent you from understanding or deciphering the meaning of her phrase through the words she chooses to emphasize.
But it’s this mystery that makes trip hop and especially Tricky so fascinating, so alluring, and so absolutely worth exploring. Forget the false idols Tricky references. Don’t build them any gold statues. Because it’s the intangible aura that really counts.