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Tricky – False Idols (2013)

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Posted May 30, 2013 by

Trip-hop pioneer Tricky generated lofty expectations for his tenth studio album, False Idols, even before its release. “Musically, this is a better album,” he said, comparing False Idols to his classic 1995 debut, Maxinquaye. He called False Idols “gentler, more mature”, the latter a factor in the album’s theme. When Tricky refers to “false idols”, he speaks mainly of society’s tendencies to gravitate toward celebrity culture. “It’s living vicariously through someone else; get your own life,” Tricky said. The album’s thematic focus, as well as Tricky’s praise, was crystal clear prior to release, and when presented with False Idols listeners are treated to many similar techniques that helped guide Tricky toward trip-hop stardom in the ‘90s, along with his contributions to Massive Attack and Martina Topley-Bird. Calling False Idols a return to form may not be appropriate, as Tricky’s last few releases all had their moments, but the most memorable moments on False Idols remind of Maxinquaye and Nearly God, when surreal and haunting atmospheres consistently guided Tricky’s penchant electro-pop/hip-hop hybrid.

False Idols feature several “covers” of songs, but they are covers in the remotest of ways; Tricky makes the interpretations entirely his own. The album’s opening line – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” – echoes the opening line on Patti Smith’s “Gloria”, which begins her legendary album Horses. The track is technically a cover of “Gloria”, but “Somebody’s Sins” is a stirring opener nonetheless, sung beautifully by London-based Francesca Belmonte in a way that mimics Smith while coinciding with Tricky’s grimily nostalgic soundscapes. Tricky implements ghostly cries underneath the booming percussion, which leaves audible imprints as it drags along ominously. Belmonte sings both angelically and seductively, showing herself as savvy as any Massive Attack or Tricky collaborator. “Somebody’s Sins” opens False Idols in enjoyably sensuous form.

As shown on “Somebody’s Sins” and throughout False Idols, Tricky’s vocal contributions are in contrast to his guests; he sounds hushed and understated compared to the grand and theatrical performances of artists like Belmonte, or the solemn weeping of The Antlers’ Peter Silberman. Tricky delivers in emotional deadpan for contrasting effect. “Parenthesis” is technically a cover of The Antlers’ song of the same name, involving Silberman for even greater impact. Still, it is an energetic re-working of its own — completely shifting the tone from woozy melancholic psych-infused rock into a fleeter rhythm-based feeler. Electric guitar bursts provide a jaggedly unique approach, especially compared to the gentler pace of most of False Idols. “Parenthesis” retains Tricky’s trademark griminess, but sits within a crunchy sphere of garage-rock as well; it’s as perfect as one could envision the Antlers-Tricky collaboration.

In addition to the collaborative vocal approach, whispers of Tricky’s past remain apparent throughout False Idols. “Nothing’s Changed”, the album’s first single, is a reprisal of sorts from Tricky fan favorite “Makes Me Wanna Die”. The orchestral string pad floats along with a melancholic whimsy, like a bleaker cousin of the aforementioned track. The vocals sound defeated and breathless, aptly enough, while still retaining a melodic fervor. “Nothing’s changed, I still feel the same,” repeats throughout the track, perhaps a poke at pop culture’s stale and lifeless demeanor, of which so many are fixated. Pop culture is further explored on the swanky “Bonnie & Clyde”, crisply produced and exotically progressive as it moves along at a glacial, nonchalant pop-driven pace. With a chugging sample repeated throughout the reminds of Damon Albarn’s hypnotic sample-driven approach with Gorillaz, it’s a hypnotic drive that relies more on atmosphere than hooks, a tendency that listeners of False Idols will become accustomed to, even as the next track “Parenthesis” is one of the most infectious of the bunch with its electric guitar stammers.

False Idols is chock full of material, featuring fifteen diverse tracks, and the loftiness shows; it’s easy to see why Tricky was excited about its release. Still, the comparisons to his debut were premature, as expected.  The flurry of two and three-minute efforts allow for some of the easiest listening of Tricky’s career, but the expansion of early albums is relatively forgotten – as is the focus on continuous atmosphere. The style is not nearly as focused as Maxinquaye, and it results in backgrounds that seem relatively scatterbrain in tone and direction. As “If I Only Knew” is the closest to trip-hop traditionalism, “Is That Your Life” sits in another spectrum entirely — one of a funk-tinged hip-hop nature. Every effort has its own stylistic appeal, but some – namely “I’m Ready” and “Hey Love” – seem out of place with numbing sameness and pseudo-aggression just to mix things up, respectively. The beats are eerie, and the constructed settings grimy, so there remain several aspects key to Tricky’s original sound. He has always shown a talent of infusing guest vocals into his productions, whether with Topley-Bird or Elizabeth Fraser in the past. That certainly remains, as some of the strongest efforts feature Belmonte, and Silberman’s vocals are also top-notch. While False Idols may not match Tricky’s early comparisons, it is an easy-flowing album with several highlights for fans of atmospheric trip-hop and electronica.

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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].


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