2013 will be known as the year of the comeback, so alarm bells rang when Tricky was one of many to play the ‘return to form’ card – a marketing method so routinely used by increasingly irrelevant artists that it is now generally regarded as untruth.
A self-confessed run of disappointing records didn’t help his case when he declared False Idols a better album than Maxinquaye, a debut that’s defined Bristol’s musical landscape for nearly twenty years. So it’s with great relief to find some credibility in his confidence. Indeed, as malevolent as Maxinquaye, as paranoid as Pre-Millennium Tension, False Idols is Tricky’s most consistent work since his mid-90s peak.
Whereas his early records formed heavily textured, drugged-out underworlds, here Tricky pares down his production in order to expose the evils of everyday life. ‘Nothing Matters’ is a politically charged parallel between love and war, but closer ‘Passion of the Christ’ is the album’s most direct assault. “Too many prisons to take your family, too many reasons to lose your sanity,” he snarls over a relentless backbeat.
False Idols also sees the return of Tricky as a shrewd tastemaker. Both ‘Somebody’s Sins’ and ‘Valentine’ are seductively sinister takes on their original versions (from Van Morrison and Chet Baker respectively), while ‘Hey Love’’s sly electronic accent comes courtesy of New Romantics Japan – a partnership that was teased in the 1994 single ‘Aftermath’ but only now realises its true potential.
The album takes the same name as Tricky’s own record label, through which Tricky has found a new muse in protégée Francesca Belmonte. Her raspy vocal tones make an ideal foil for his signature sprechgesang style, particularly on the rhythmic ‘Is That Your Life’. In fact, it’s no coincidence that she recycles the lyrics of 1996 single ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’ during ‘Nothing’s Changed’ – ten albums into his career, Tricky may have finally found a worthy successor to his original collaborator, Martina Topley-Bird.
Relegated to background music for ‘quirky’ cafés for almost two decades, Tricky’s legitimate return to form finds him with a renewed sense of purpose. Cold and calculated, False Idols is more operating table than coffee table, but more successful for it.