Review Summary: The Bristol legend brings out his repertoire of influences for his eighth studio album.
To say that Tricky isn't one of the leaders of his tagged genre "Trip-Hop" that he proclaims he hates is blasphemy. Tricky first album was the dark brooding and highly emotional Maxinquaye (an album dedicated to his mother). This album - 'Knowle West Boy' is the culmination of his entire career. Now these aren't my words, but his. He has said before 'Knowle West Boy' was released that this would reflect all of his influences and previous work. There is no mistake about that. Even with his massive popularity, his recent works have been less than average. Tricky's failed attempts such as Vulnerable and The Impossible Thrill EP have been said to show Tricky's end.
'Knowle West Boy' enters with the 'mumbled half sung' style of Tricky with a piano leading it. More than a half a minute later the chorus kicks with the backing vocals within Tricky's voice. This is a very energetic track that brings Tricky's talents to the forefront. The chorus definitely holds the track together and as soon as it kicks in it slows down. Tricky is known for his less than good delivery without another singer to assist him (as shown with guest appearances) on many of his albums; this of course is obvious on many songs.
"Bacative" is a great track that is held together by the previous backing vocalist and a dubbed voice of Tricky's this works surprising well considering it is a re-hashed version of the previous track's formula. The only major difference is the sly delivery of a hip-hop/rhasta vocalist.
The 2 tracks with that were previously introduced show Tricky's mix of vocals with a great chorus is an excellent way of holding his own. Even with his guest vocalists it is quite interesting to see Tricky still distinguish himself. "Joseph" a slow, whispered song by Tricky with great atmosphere is effective for the 2 minute length is consumes. "Veronika", again introduces another female vocalist with short pauses between verses. This isn't exactly a strong track because of the background instruments that are muddled; the vocals are superb, but the track itself isn't very good.
Within this album there are many upbeat and energetic tracks that carry each other with great choruses such as "C'mon Baby" and "Puppy Toy". Tricky does hold his own as I said previously; "Council Estate" is definitely a fun listen with Tricky's rapping that isn't with any guest appearances. The great thing about this track is Tricky realizes he can't carry a whole track by his own and cuts it short with the same repeating verses of:
"Don't like school, in a week we go once,
Don't like th' police 'cos they kick and they punch,
God bless all the stress and the stress comes at once,
But remember boy you're a superstar
Can't break it, can't take who you are
Can't break it, can't take who you are
Remember boy you're a superstar"
After the hyperactive "Council Estate" enters "Past Mistake" that seems was ripped completely from Maxinquaye - it is truly a great experience. The atmosphere is dark and beautiful, as the piano intertwines with "My love, my love for you" afterwards Tricky and the female vocalist lead each other back and forth with a great combination of their singing talents. This is by far the best track on this 'Knowle West Boy' for obvious reasons - it shows the greatest strengths of Tricky; his atmosphere, half-whispered lyrics, and gripping sound.
To say that Tricky doesn't have his poor moments in this album is a lie. "Coalition" is a really tough listen. This track is the first to bare Tricky's lyrical talents without the help of a good complimented vocalist. Tricky forcefully seems to rap about the war, religion, and corporations. Honestly it is a terrible track as it seems not to have any flow whatsoever. Of course afterwards the intensity is lightened as a female vocalist again takes a the lead with "Cross To Bear", which isn't bad. A string of songs with female vocalists leading the charge is still in effect with "Slow"; the talents of Kylie Monigue are showcased with Tricky backing. It's an infectious song because of the beat and guitar that looms in the background.
What is interesting about Tricky's previous work is he hasn't created a great blend of rock and hip-hop influences in a song. He has tried, but of course failed (in my opinion). This is why songs like "C'mon Baby", "Slow" (not very guitar driven), "Baligaga", "Far Away", and the acoustic "School Gates" aren't necessarily his perfect blend, but work very well. They don't force the sound down the listener's throat and for that we are rewarded. "School Gates" is probably the most pure blend. The acoustic guitar drives the song entirely and the small drum beats elevate the lyrics.
Tricky has created an album that does what he promised would - showcase his solo career of nearly 15 years. The problem with this album is it doesn't keep a consistent atmosphere within the every song, this doesn't necessarily destroy the continuity of this album, but it doesn't help it. Tricky finally succumbs to his faults and minimizes the problems of his singing abilities by showcasing many female vocalists and his known hip-hop/rhasta accomplice. Even with the boring "Veronika" and tough listen of "Coalition" Tricky manages to do what he set out and create an album that includes trip-hop, hip-hop, rock, even blues...this album spans across many genres, but holds it own as an album nonetheless. Tricky manages to show he isn't on the downhill and somewhat reinvents himself.