Tricky TrickyMixed Race
Who held him to his chest when the entire music press went after him? Yours truly. Who calmed him down and made him put away the Uzi every time anybody started going on about “Maxinquaye”? Here. Who prayed for him when the doctors diagnosed him with a fungal growth in his stomach? Guilty. Who patted him on the back when he got into the whole rockist crossover thing? I did. Who assured him he wasn’t crazy when he bought a boxing school in Paris? Moi. Who said “Knowle West Boy” was a good album when many others said it wasn’t? The man who signs this article. I have always believed that Tricky is a talent to be defended at all times, practically up to the limits of irrationality (note the “practically”). The burden of trip-hop (how many times will I have heard that stupid “Tricky, the creator of trip-hop” ?), the Bristolian hype and the downtempo excitement of the early 90’s are scars the Briton has not been able to graft from his skin. It’s a mission impossible now. He will always be observed through that absurd prism, and therefore any uptempo adventure or fusion that goes beyond the obvious –mist, fat beats, whispers and all that nineties paraphernalia– will always be discredited.
That said, it’s true that his stuttering post-trip-hop career hasn’t been an easy ride; there have been big cobblestones and pestilent pieces of horse dung on the road we have travelled alongside him. That’s why I understand that many people jumped off the wagon and lost faith in his erratic compass, but many believed up to now that it was still worth it to walk in the mud and trip as many times as necessary in order to enjoy the creative sparks which, like little nuggets of gold, are hidden in Tricky’s musical geology. Anyway, there are occasions when it’s impossible not to hear the screeches of his failed acrobatics, of which there are many, and they’re ugly. And this time the shipwreck is insuperable. And with a title like “Mixed Race”, it seemed obvious that even the most irrational Tricky fanatics would have problems giving any meaning to that whole multi-ethnic mess.
Influences and folklore from all over the world come together in a spasm of crossbreeding and hipster eclecticism which, in truth, seems to be executed with half a heart, as if to demonstrate how much one gets drenched in other cultures and sounds. And carpe diem. That’s where aberrations like “Hakim”come from, with Hakim Hamadouche warbling in Arabic over a beat, some violins and opera samples! Not to mention the retro cabaret vibe in the vein of “All That Jazz” on “Come To Me”, as if the Bristolian were trying to be Mark Ronson and Liza Minnelli, only stoned. And there’s “Every Day”, that puzzling blues with echoes of the cotton fields, harmonica, tambourine and chanted choruses. And when you’re thinking about throwing in the towel, there comes “Time To Dance”, a kind of minimal techno streetwalker drenched in synthesisers that sounds grossly outdated and with the trademark adornment: Tricky and a whispering female voice. The track that has been acclaimed by most of the press doesn’t convince me, either I’m sorry, but the “Peter Gunn” sample on “Murder Weapon” –a reconstruction of an Echo Minott track– just seems too coarse for a brain like Tricky’s.
And of course, the worst comes when you try to rescue most enjoyable moments of the album and it turns out that the best stuff on “Mixed Race” is the slow beat stuff, with the smoker mist and Bristolian asphyxia. Nine albums to arrive to this? Well, yes, although it has to be said: the good things, as few as there may be, are really good. The spectral jazz of “Early Bird” is Tricky in a state of grace –pure nocturnal hypnotism–, the dramatic violins and the guitars on “Ghetto Stars” wrinkle your skin, the dramatic trip-hop of “Really Real” (with Bobbie Gillespie ( Primal Scream) on vocals), and the ghetto grime with jazzy breakbeat of “Bristol To London” work. That’s the authentic distillation of an album that loses itself in its own eclecticism when it moves away from the gutter. Recorded in Paris, where Adrian Thaws is currently based, “Mixed Race” is a point of no return for the fans who still have hope that it’s all going to be alright. There is too little; four songs just aren’t enough to make the cut. We want more, much, much more. Óscar Broc