Almost by happy mistake, English artist Tricky is pleasantly bearable as an international lyricist, and his musical direction seems to luckily work for him—what’s so boldly been the crux of his uniqueness as an artist is that he isn’t a virtuoso (he openly refuses to call his fans ‘fans’ as he says anyone can make the music he does) and he doesn’t subsist under the pretense that he is. His music just somehow falls into place even though it’s quite atypical. On False Idols, Tricky returns to the musical aesthetics of Maxinquaye, his debut album, and the decade that marked his coming of age. Even though it’s been almost 10 years, his latest project may serve as a follow up and continues to shine a light on his self-actualized experience.
False Idols feels like a thirst quencher from experimental music’s past. His existentialism draws heavily from the grainy sounds of 1997 Portishead (bet Tricky is tired of the uncanny comparison) and you can even find some elements of Jewel circa “Who Will Save Your Soul?” (this is especially transparent on “Nothing Matters”), all of which presents the air of darkness, contemplation, and trivialism through such instrumentation. False Idols sticks firmly within the frame of trip-hop, even when we thought no one was making it anymore.
Any trace of a concept is masked by Tricky’s ambiguity. With this album, he is about questioning the figments of his reality, though at times his queries (at least the ones we can determine) do come off as a bit banal for someone who is so deeply examining the verity of his reality (On “Somebody’s Sins” the lyrics drag “Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine.” Hasn’t this topic been covered a million times already?). Tricky blends melancholy tracks with upbeat ones, without removing the melancholy, and never taking you out of pensiveness. The tick-tocks and hollow pizzicato on the harp strings are consistent throughout the album, although each song plays differently. “My Funny Valentine” is creepy and uses a creepy sample. “If Only I Knew” sounds like a soft Sade demo laced with longing and despair. It’s brilliant. “Is That Your Life” is a little less heavy with subtle elements of beat box. And although all 16 tracks are variable, Tricky does a good job of never catching you off guard.
The ironic thing about this album is that though it’s supposed to serve as a representation of Tricky finding himself, at times you can get a sense that he still may not quite have figured out who he is. He hides behind well-written lyrics that don’t pose any real questions. But the beauty of False Idols is that it’s refreshing and of the past. The musicality still works. Even though the genre has already come and gone.