Tricky made a grand entrance in 1995 with Maxinquaye, a combo of shadowy electro sound scapes and seductive vocals (courtesy of his collaborator Martine) that left scores of imitators in its wake. Five albums later, the 36-year-old Brit is touting Blowback as the “real” follow-up to his debut; all the others, he says, were bogged down by a gloom-and-doom outlook, whereas Blowback’s rife with better vibes.
That’s half true — Blowback does offer a handful of tunes that, if not radio-friendly, aren’t radio-phobic. But that might have less to do with any change of outlook than with the slew of guests along for the ride, as heavy-hitters such as Alanis Morissette, Ed Kowalczyk of Live, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers show up alongside relative unknowns such as reggae toaster MC Hawkman. Though all do a nice job — the Chili Peppers’ red-blooded funk in particular is a nice foil to Tricky’s penchant for shtick — Blowback has more or less the same slow-burn feel as all of Tricky’s records, shuffling between murky grooves and spastic beats and conjuring images of low-rent districts at nighttime.
Even if he has let a little sunshine into his sonic junkyard, it might have been an accident, since for Tricky (as it is for Beck) there’s a thin line between genuine vision and just fucking around. Where Maxinquaye worked up to a kind of weird gestalt by way of good songs and dark sounds, Blowback is hit-and-miss. Half-baked song ideas pile up next to flashes of brilliance: The take on Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” is great, with all of the druggy signifiers in the right place, but it’s enveloped by lots and lots of sameness. And though you don’t have to like his voice to like his records, Tricky’s insistence on sounding vaguely like a villain whenever he sings comes off as sillier than ever — he’s really about as menacing as the Hamburglar. Whether it’s a case of too many cooks spoiling his strange brew or his vision just getting away from him, Blowback is a mess.
E-mail Christian Hoard at firstname.lastname@example.org.