Tricky – ‘Knowle West Boy’

August 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, August 14, 2008.

Knowle West Boy

Unlike his Bristol scene contemporaries, Adrian Thawes never shut up shop. While Portishead went to ground for best part of a decade, only to deliver this year’s towering opus Third, and Massive Attack’s relative 90s prolificacy petered out with time, band tensions and their eventual post-100th Window disbandment, the man better known as the Tricky Kid has continued to plug away, managing to drop an album every couple of years until 2003. It might have been better if he hadn’t.

In contrast to his brilliant 1995 debut Maxinquay and the shuddering, subterranean downbeat of 1996’s Pre-Millennium Tension – without a doubt two of the most iconoclastic underground records of the mid 90s – Tricky’s subsequent output has proved highly questionable at best. Indeed, at his lowest ebb – 2003’s toxic Vulnerable – Tricky managed to all but dismantle his own extraordinary legacy.

Seventh album proper Knowle West Boy at least arrests the slide. Something of an ode to his council estate childhood, this unusual collection of songs sees Tricky ply his typically phlegmy vocal growls to range of oddly bluesy musical leanings. The rollicking guitars, plonking piano and vox rumbles of opener ‘Puppy Toy’ pitches the Tricky Kid as a kind of electrified Tom Waits. It’s kind of awkward, kind of fun too.

There are plenty other blues-inflected peculiarities; the schlocky guitar solos of ‘C’mon Baby’, tinny power-chords of Kylie cover ‘Slow’ and acoustic spaghetti-westernisms of ‘School Gates’ included. In other parts we’re even treated (or perhaps “exposed” is the better term) to weird-arse, Billy Idol-esque synth-guitar-pop – see ‘Far Away’ for the thoroughly bizarre proof.

But there are genuine moments of quality amongst the oddities. The suspenseful atmospheres of ‘Bacative’ and pinging beats and nimble bass underlays of ‘Baligaga’ – both featuring the seamless raga flow of MC Rodigan – feel urgent and fresh. Cuts like the near-whispered minimalism of ‘Joseph’ and the droning atmospheres of ‘Past Mistake’ recall Tricky’s downbeat days of old.

Nonetheless, it’s important we consider Knowle West Boy’s successes comparatively. This isn’t a great Tricky album. Furthermore, its purported rationale of providing an insight into life in the council estates falls fairly flat. Tricky’s ever-abstract vernacular and the cartoonish qualities of much of his production just don’t evoke any relevant imagery.

What’s important is that Tricky has diverted his downward trajectory. He’s even dropped some solid tracks.

Dan Rule


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