The cycle of musical fashion is vicious. For years, prog was the laughing stock of the rock family, then The Mars Volta and Mystery Jets came along and suddenly you could mention ELP without having stones thrown at you by children. Similarly shoegaze: sure, everyone loves it now, but a few brief years back it was denounced as sexless music for middle-class bedwetters.
This year it’s the trip-hop fan who gets vindication. Long dismissed as ‘dinner party music’, the resurrection of its holy trinity with Portishead’s new album, Massive Attack’s Meltdown and now
the return of the darkest, strangest third – Tricky – is proof it’s is as appropriate to a dinner party as fucking on the table during the fish course.
‘Knowle West Boy’, Tricky’s first album in five years, finds him reconnecting with his roots in the Bristol ‘ghetto’ after which the album is named. It’s self-referential: despite the invigorating presence of Switch on ‘Council Estate’ and ‘Slow’, in comparison to Portishead he hasn’t moved on a jot, but his standalone sound was always his strength. This is pure Tricky; sometimes at his near-best, sometimes coasting, but always unique.
Rather than the terrifying hisser of ‘Pre-Millennium Tension’, he’s mainly in upbeat mood. ‘Baby Come On’ and ‘Puppy Toy’, with its cocktail-bar piano and smart-mouthed sass, are raunchy, irreverent and (yes) funny. The darkest moment is the space clank of ‘Veronika’, the Italian vocalist of the same name coming on like a dead-eyed dominatrix.
The only real low-point is the very belated ‘war is bad!’ effort, ‘Coalition’. Tricky was always better at the personal side of political, as on the New Order-ish sweep of ‘Far Away’, where he mutters about a “global crisis” with the urgency of a man watching it from his bedroom window, spliff in hand, before assuring “we’re gonna last”.
Momentary embarrassment is swept away by the rude glory of his cover of Kylie’s ‘Slow’, miles from the cloying coyness of the original. The crowning moment, though, is the gritty, up-yours rush of ‘Council Estate’, in which he reasserts his delinquent working-class credentials, defiantly crowing, “They can’t break you/Can’t take who you are/Remember boy, you’re a superstar”. Nice to be reminded. Slaughter the fattened calf and get the dinner party going – Tricky’s back.