Tricky originally recorded Knowle West Boy in London, close to his homeland and the album’s namesake, but scrapped the sessions, calling them too generic. He packed up his shit, moved to L.A. to start over, and ironically, found his roots. With this new batch of tracks, Tricky re-emerges as trip-hop’s Architect of Tomorrow, as unpredictable and atmospherically seductive as musically possible. Knowle West Boy delivers the goods as an ideal blend for those who cut their trip-hop teeth on Pre-Millennium Tension and Maxinquaye, pushing envelopes in the strangest ways with everything from futuristic blues and flamenco to reggae and… a Kylie Minogue cover?
The only drawback to Knowle West Boy is also one of its greatest strengths – the radical variation between tracks. It’s all over the fucking place. In a long, ranting (but interesting) piece on the new material, Tricky explained: “With this album I thought… I make music. I have the opportunity to be The Specials on one song, and Tom Waits on another song, and Howlin’ Wolf on another song. Past Mistake, though, is more like the old me, a track that people would expect from me. Coalition is me wanting to be a hardcore rapper. So all my dreams come true on this album.”
He’s right about Past Mistake– a track that’s deceptively seductive in a circular, purgatorial way that never upscales the way you think it will – but somehow that’s a good thing. Joseph was named after the song’s vocalist, a street performer who Tricky met outside a store in L.A. The pensive, delicate riff sounds like a sister to A Perfect Circle’s A Stranger, with the ever-present, intoxicating danger of potential bursting kinetic round every corner. It’s in songs like these that serve as reminders of Tricky’s mastery of the subtle crush, somehow making the lack of climax better than the explosion itself.
Frenzied social-protest rocker Council Estate, in Tricky’s own words, “rips off The Specials but takes ‘em into my world.” He puts the blunt down, clears his throat and steps up to the mic to deliver a blistering vocal assault, full-on frontman style. We need to hear more of this shit for sure, but somehow Tricky always seems his most powerful in a quiet rasp. And if the man can make a drum n’ bass finish sound good, more power to him.
Furthermore, whether or not he’s convincingly G’d out enough in Coalition is irrelevant; the song’s badass. You can get killed by friendly fire, he warns, and I’m not sure if that’s a threat, but I’ll make sure to… be careful.
As usual, Tricky’s enlisted a stable of unknown but unforgettable female singers to flesh out most of the vocal tracks, “A lot of my lyrics are from a female point of view,” he said. “I wish I could sing like Janis Joplin or PJ Harvey. But I can’t. So I need- need– a female singer to help me.”
And help they do. Cross To Bear is beauty defined, carried by Tricky’s goldmine-discovery in Icelandic vocalist Hafdis. Alex Mills’ bluesy wail couldn’t be more perfect for the cocky, swaggering barroom jam Puppy Toy, a stripper’s dream come true.
Veronika steps effortlessly into ranking among the top five songs Tricky’s ever written (three of which can be found on Pre-Millennium Tension: Christiansands, Bad Dream, She Makes Me Wanna Die), while Minogue cover Slow is… forgivable.
Bacative has a gentle start before going full rasta, anchored by the vocals of a random Spanish girl Tricky found who happens to have no singing experience at all. Fuck it, it works.
The softly erotic voice of French-Moroccan beauty and ex-girlfriend Lubna grace Past Mistake and School Gates, the former being unintentionally autobiographical for the doomed couple with a bitterly seductive gravity that’s impossibly irresistable.
The evolution of sophistication is evident throughout Knowle West, with a depth of sonic saturation that’s easily on par with his old bandmates Massive Attack. Tricky’s vision is a unique one, and if there was any question of his title as trip-hop pioneer, it’s laid to rest here. After five years of hopping around the planet, partying supernatural and kicking it with the celebrity elite, Tricky’s back, and the break seems to have done him a world of good.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.