The sound of music of the ’90s has been nearly inescapable in recent years, though there are certain styles that have fared better than others. Shoegaze, for instance, has arguably held up a lot better than trip-hop. Yet at its peak, trip-hop did have more commercial success with artists like Portishead and Massive Attack, and as one of the genre’s elder statesmen, Tricky set the bar for himself pretty high on the dark narcotic opus Pre-Millenium Tension in 1996. Yet he has since proven himself capable of sounds that go far beyond what he did on his earliest albums, as proven on his latest release, Fall to Pieces.
Tricky has never been about writing conventional pop songs and such is the case with Fall to Pieces. The album was written in the aftermath of personal tragedy, Tricky having recorded these songs after the death of his daughter. Yet given the subject matter, it often doesn’t feel as dark as some of his sinister material of the ’90s. That kind of sonic darkness does not come until “Hate this Pain,” a song where Tricky delivers the vocals with anguish, and whose sound evokes images of humid nights in New Orleans.
“Chills Me to the Bone” runs off a reliable groove that drives the song in the right direction. There is more of a house bounce to “Fall Please,” though without the kind of groove Tricky is known, it doesn’t feel as focused. When he opts for the melodic and organic drone of “Take Me Shopping,” it works more to his advantage. The melody is more understated with “Like a Stone,” as the vocals from new collaborator Złakowska here feel more like his past collaborations with Martina Topley-Bird.
There is a gloomier vibe to “Vietnam” which closes the album. Yet it never finds its groove, instead just sort of droning on. The album gets murky and runs out of gas in its final moments but does succeed as a whole, standing up reasonably well against some of his more recent albums. The production is a little brighter than expected but serves the songs in a way that shows, nearly three decades into his career, it’s not just business as usual for Tricky. He strikes a balance between pushing forward into new creative directions and maintaining the character of what made earlier records like Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension so strong. Yet it’s still the farthest thing from a pandering act to younger electronic fans, as the music strays from club-oriented sounds, instead focused on the songwriting above all. The generation gap never sounded better.
Label: False Idols