It must be hard being Tricky. The once self-proclaimed dark angel turned martyr of dance music has had it very difficult in the last few years. Somehow with each passing album release is a comparison to his highly acclaimed debut album, Maxinquaye. So why must reviewers bury their noses into the past when reviewing new material by artists? Why don’t they just analyze the record on it’s own? It’s because without evolution, artists become what is now referred to as mainstream, mediocre crap. So a proper comparison must be made to investigate whether an artist merits the title of ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’.
Maxinquaye was the evolution of music. It was such a landmark album that they had to create a new music called "trip hop" to classify it. But unfortunately, like many bad hairstyles, trip hop disappeared into the trenches of modern music death. Yes, like grunge, trip hop was a time and place, nothing more. Look at what happened to Portishead and their short-lived career. They, like Tricky, released a debut album full of catchy pop ballads intertwined with film noir musicology. But after a failed attempt at pop charts with their sophomore release, they completely vanished from the public eye.
Tricky did the opposite by entirely avoiding mainstream. When Pre-Millennium Tension was released, Tricky’s sophomore plunge into darkness, most music lovers had already been exposed to Tricky’s sinister and distorted outlook on life. Just listen to Nearly God or the collaboration with the Gravediggaz on the Hell EP and you can clearly envision the path that Tricky had chosen. Darkness fell on him and his musical creativity was beginning to show signs of insanity and lunacy. This creativity and imagination kept his musical drive interesting and refreshing for his fans or anyone who showed interest in his career. So unlike our beloved Portishead, Tricky kept battling his demons and released some overwhelmingly strong material entangled with some utterly dissatisfying work. “Carriage for Two” from Angels with Dirty Faces may be one of Tricky’s finest musical achievements in his career. But only a few songs earlier on the album is “6 Minutes," a completely annoying and displeasing song.
Somewhere between Juxtapose and Blowback, Tricky repented his sins and said goodbye to his music career forever. His lack of imagination was apparent on both album releases (no, not a collaboration with the Red Hot Chili Peppers?!?!) and continues to be stagnant and redundant with his new album Vulnerable. His press release for the album screams at his audience to give him a second chance. “I called this album Vulnerable because it’s my most honest and open record”. What? How honest can this album be? Where are the demons? Where is the madman that we once knew? He is gone and with him any creative thought or approach that would have made this release worthwhile. And the continuous comparisons to Maxinquaye only blemish the outlook anyone could encompass from his debut album. Please stop!
Vulnerable shows all the signs of a veteran pro player that doesn’t want to retire. Tricky may want to play for awhile longer but at some point he may realize that he is just going through the motions. Recycled beats, repetitive and droning vocals, complacent song transition, and unimaginative reconstruction of songs are all evident on Vulnerable. Remember when Tricky would dismantle an old school hip-hop song and perform it with originality and freshness? Vulnerable’s cover is XTC’s cross over radio hit “Dear God” redone almost exactly like the original. Where is the frightening claustrophobic cover of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Lyrics of Fury” or the head-banging trip-metal version of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel” on this album?
Tricky was an extremely talented music performer. Unfortunately, he has grown-up. But luckily for any fan of Tricky, his foundation was built on a truly brilliant record with Maxinquaye. Perhaps that was his ultimate demise. But at least his legacy as the madman and demon of trip hop will go on forever with each listen of his apocalyptic debut album. Vulnerable perhaps should have been called "I tried but I couldn’t copy my musical debut masterpiece." Better luck next time.
For those of you who wish to know more from Tricky’s finer work, here are some mixtape suggestions:
1. Carriage For Two - Angels with Dirty Faces
2. Poems - Nearly God (side project)
3. Tonite is a Special Nite - Hell EP w/ Gravediggaz
4. Tricky Kid - Pre-Millennium Tension
5. Demise - Angels with Dirty Faces
6. Lyrics of Fury - Pre-Millennium Tension (Eric B. & Rakim Cover)
7. Children's Story - Nearly God (Slick Rick Cover)
8. Piano - Pre-Millennium Tension
9. Analyze Me - Angels with Dirty Faces
10. Oh Yeah, Maxinquaye!
3. Ice Pick
4. Car Crash
5. Dear God
6. How High
7. What is Wrong
10. Wait for God
11. Where I'm From
12. The Lovecats
13. Search Search Survive