“False Idols” – Tricky

3 stars (out of 5)

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Tricky’s debut album “Maxinquaye” came out in 1995 and is now, some eighteen years later, regarded as not only his best work, but also one of the most inspirational and best examples of the trip-hop genre which first appeared in the early nineties.  The pressure for him to repeat the success and the sounds contained on “Maxinquaye” seem to have been so great that Tricky has actually stated that this, his tenth album, (I know, it shocked me too) is a return to the essence of his debut and also of him as an artist. This doesn’t sound like the successor to “Maxinquaye” in that an updated version would have to be terrifyingly experimental and claustrophobic, sticky and dark, but “False Idols” is soulful, mature even and the predominant feminine psyche (something which Tricky has always been very much in touch with in both his music and the images that have accompanied it) is represented and presented as vulnerable and maybe damaged but wilful and intact.

This is a fifteen song album and only “Passion of the Christ” features Tricky on his own with no female support and probably sounds exactly as you might imagine it would. There are three female vocalists featured here and the one male guest is the lead singer of The Antlers singing a version of one their own songs. The women here sound and sing like Martina Topley-Bird, not featured here, who performed vocals on Tricky’s first four albums and is rightly considered his ultimate collaborator and muse. “Maxinquaye” was a sample heavy album and Tricky has demonstrated a continued greed for bizarre cover versions (the “Wonder Woman” theme, “Slow” by Kylie, “The Love Cats” and “Happy Talk” amongst others all appear on previous albums) which hasn’t diminished here but these are his most successful interpretations to date.

Somebody’s Sins”, which is a cover of Patti Smith’s interpretation of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, is beautifully economical; just Francesca Belmonte’s small but confrontational voice, a bassline and the sound of a muted bee buzzing in a jar and, at barely three minutes long, it’s an impressive opening track. “Valentine” sees Tricky duetting with Chet Baker’s “Funny Valentine”, “Hey Love” uses a two note, instantly recognisable sample from Japan’s “Ghosts” and “Does It” is actually a pretty loyal, albeit more minimal, cover version of the brilliantly threatening “Love  Is A Chain Store” by The Ropes. Along with the swooping Massive Attack-lite of “Nothing’s Changed” and Nneka, criminally given only one track, recalling “Raw Like Sushi” Neneh Cherry on “Nothing Matters”, this collection actually sounds like one of the more polite trip-hop releases from the late nineties. Tricky may well have wanted to avoid this but it’s something that he can’t seem to escape and in this instance, it’s not a criticism. Lyrical themes of isolation, class, betrayal and sex remain and occasionally, such as on the low-slung, stop-start funk of “Is That Your Life” where Francesca Belmonte narrates a typical dealer’s day and Tricky mumbles ‘you does your bird, you keeps your word’, it can be clumsy and clichéd and somewhat retrograde.

“False Idols” is occasionally menacing but overwhelmingly intimate, quiet and quite lovely. Admittedly there is filler here and if it were a twelve-track album then a lot of its problems would be solved, but it’s also Tricky’s most cohesive collection in a decade; “False Idols” is maybe a more revealing title than initially assumed. Tricky has made the album he wanted to and has declared that he proudly stands by every song featured.  He’s clearly a variation on the person he was almost two decades ago; not the same man but why would he be? To put him on a pedestal and expect him to recreate what’s now considered to be his masterpiece again is naive and misplaced. Tricky has moved on and this album proves that he has to ability and imagination to make material that is maybe minor, but is valid and engaging nonetheless.