When Tricky released his debut album, Maxinquaye, critics immediately hailed it as a masterpiece. It also helped to define the trip-hop sound – a sinister, claustrophobic sound that mixed hip-hop with styles like reggae and dub. Then Tricky’s downward spiral began.
With each of his subsequent albums, Tricky retreated further into that claustrophobic sound. Now, with his latest album, Juxtapose (Island Records), Tricky slowly moves back into the light and has made an album that, at times, competes with the best music he’s made.
Although Tricky is starting to become more listener-friendly, it doesn’t mean he’s all sweetness and light. All of his trademark sounds are in abundance on Juxtapose. Tricky still raps in his guttural growl over pounding drums and bass, but on the opening track, “For Real,” there is a lightness. The beats don’t drown out the melody and Tricky sounds more relaxed when he raps.
“Contradcitive” has a pretty melody plucked out on a guitar that seems to float over the beats. Tricky’s low growl heightens the contrasting sounds and blends well with the guitar to create a sinister atmosphere. Unlike previous Tricky albums, Juxtapose only has one song where a female vocalist takes center stage. “Call Me” is a pleasant song, but she doesn’t have the strength or character that past vocalists have had.
The laid-back vibe of the album disappears in tracks such as “She Said.” Over a quick drum beat, Tricky raps as if he were telling you a secret. This builds up as thrashing guitar riffs are added, and Tricky goes from whispering to almost screaming at you. It’s one of the most aggressive songs he’s made and definitely one of his best.
“Hot Like A Sauna” is another song that would fit in on his darker albums. Tricky spits out his words as if they’re poisoning him while a crashing beat and horn section add to the chaos of the song. It’s also the only song on Juxtapose where Tricky’s partner, Mad Dog, actually fits in.
The other songs in which Mad Dog raps are by far the worst songs on the album and could win the vote for worst in Tricky’s career. On songs such as “I Like the Girls” and “Bom Bom Diggy,” Tricky passes the main rapping onto Mad Dog. Big mistake. Mad Dog tries to rap so fast that he sounds like Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks trying to be gangster. It’s impressive for about 15 seconds, and then it grates on the nerves and makes you miss Tricky’s slow delivery.
While other trip-hop luminaries such as Portishead and Massive Attack having gone astray, Tricky has gone back to making trip-hop albums that draw you in instead of push you away.