Review Summary: One of Tricky's finest albums since the '90s.
While discussing the musical direction that would be taken in his latest album, Tricky confessed that False Idols
wouldn't be so much a progression in sound, as it would be a regression to his roots. In other words, rather than following along the increasingly erratic path he's taken since Blowback
, Tricky, now a trip-hop legend who feels as if he's been “lost for ages,” has decided to travel back in time and reconnect with the clever visionary that composed 1995's Maxinquaye
. Though interestingly enough, the sole concept behind False Idols
isn't so much to replicate the sound of Maxinquaye
, but to re-write its blueprints and introduce a 'modernized' Bristol sound to a new generation. The atmosphere still emanates the obsessively dark and spaced-out feel of trip-hop, but the feeling of escapism in the music and Tricky's dadaist-like arrangement of beats are generally compromised and condensed in length for instant lucidity. Musically, False Idols
is regarded, by Tricky himself, as a better album than Maxinquaye
. And while, I, and most fans for that matter, will hesitate to agree with that statement, False Idols
contains such an impeccable balance of vibrant melodicism and clever songwriting, that with each repeated listen, his statement seems more often than not convincing.
Throughout the entirety of False Idols
, we find Tricky operating quietly in the background and comfortably assuming the role of a composer. The majority of the vocal duties are actually handled by female singers Francesca Belmonte, Fifi Rong, and Nneka Egbuna, all of whom deliver exquisitely seductive croons in their respective tracks. "If Only I Knew" is perhaps the most beautifully sung piece from the album. It's a romantically centered song, focusing on the complex emotions that conjure up after a devastating heartbreak. Fifi Rong's voice is so ethereal here, yet mournful at the same time, the emotion in her singing is so sincere that you almost get the sense that she's about to succumb to tears in the end. Musically, there's an eclectic range of moods and sounds that are broken down and manipulated to formulate the classic, '90s Bristol trip-hop vibe. As exemplified by the minimalistic percussions in "Valentine", the bowed-string melody of "Nothing's Changed", and the funkier stylings in "Is That Your Life?", each song has its own individual blend of influences, but the album as a whole primarily derives its components from mellow rock grooves, breakbeats, dubby atmospherics, and clanking rhythms to thematically compliment whatever emotion or idea is being expressed through the lyrics. The mildly renditioned take on The Antler's "Parentheses" is one of the most ingeniously arranged compositions in False Idols
, as it's been twisted into a more theatrically sinister piece than that of Burst Apart
. The track fluctuates from a haunting calm to a guitar-driven assault, which does add to its suspenseful aura, but it's Peter Silberman's eerie falsetto that truly radiates an off-putting, yet oddly magnetic sound.
As previously mentioned, Tricky's vocals are scarce throughout the album, and more often than not, his voice is usually placed in the background to compliment the leads. "Passion Of The Christ" is one of his finest moments on the microphone, and his signature hush-sung vocals really helps accentuate the song's menacing ambience. The psychedelic influence is felt more intimately here, as Tricky manipulates an arabic-like soundscape to echo behind the pseudo hip-hop beat, thus giving "Passion Of The Christ" a hypnotic radiance. Much like the opening track, "Somebody's Sins", "Passion Of The Christ" also expresses a dissatisfaction with organized religion, as well as depicting an equally cynical view of humanity's sinful nature. "Somebody's Sins" gives a satirical portrayal of hedonistic lifestyles, one emphasized in lines like "Jesus died for someone's sins but not mine, […] My sins are my own, they belong to me". Rather than focusing on individuals, "Passion Of The Christ" looks out to the world as a whole, one plagued by violence and chaos. I was truly mesmerized by the lyrics in this track, particularly Tricky's exploration of Nietzschean ideology, in that our prayers for refuge remain unheard because our "God is real sick." A lot of the lyrical topics discussed in False Idols
tend to borrow inspiration from existentialism and bohemianism, but there's also various nods to beatnik thematics, such as sexuality ("Valentine") and a nihilistic attitude towards life ("I'm Ready").
One of the biggest reasons that made me excited to get a hold of False Idols
was hearing the way Tricky spoke about not only the album itself, but of his own career thus far. In an article with Clash, he talked about how he initially felt proud of his last two records, Knowle West Boy
and Mixed Race
, but eventually came to the realization that they weren’t very good (I personally disagree there). He also went on to confess that for a while he was trying to "prove something to people," that he was able to write music that pleased his fans, while still showcasing a level of creativity that satisfied his own artistic ambitions. And though he later professed that such a goal is "never going to work," he's actually managed to accomplish it here in False Idols
. The musical style constantly nods to the mellow grooves and dark atmospheres that made Tricky fashionable in the '90s, though it's his ability to employ it in a modern way that makes the music so instantly engaging. The songwriting in False Idols
is not all that concerned with complex tracks and unexpected musical turns, of course Tricky still devices a few clever hooks for auditory dazzle, but with a more compact and 'to-the-point' fashion. The emphasis of this album is not impress the listener with artsy maneuvering, but to simply entertain. In that sense, False Idols
has the potential to be a more accessible and instantly enjoyable album than say, Maxinquaye
, but because it's not as challenging to the experienced trip-hop fan, False Idols
is also vulnerable of losing some of its captivating allure.