Out There

Tricky with DJ Muggs and Grease
(Island Records)

Listen once to a Tricky record, and it feels as though there's nothing there. At first glance, it's all insinuations and whispers, music built upon the faint boom-boom-boom of a stoned heart barely beating. Turn away, do anything else, and it fades into the background; it's smoke in the air, something you never notice again unless the light's just right. Such is the bane and blessing of an artist who traffics in ambience, who creates what Simon Reynolds once wrote is "an unclassifiable hybrid of club and bedroom music." Either way, Tricky is the constant soundtrack to the old bump-and-grind.

Think of the former Adrian Thawes as Chuck D with a Bryan Ferry fetish, Sly Stone doing his best Barry White, Brian Eno with a Terence Trent D'Arby hard-on; he's post-post-modern, the futurist's throwback. Thawes is the most subtle soul man of his generation, romancing through a murmured, guttural growl that's either put-on or come-on. Doesn't matter which: The man knows how to make with the fleshly funk. Juxtapose may not be his masterpiece: Maxinquaye got there first in 1995, and last year's Angels With Dirty Faces found Thawes molding fury into sorrow until it was the saddest dance record ever made. But the new record has its own sneaky genius, beginning with the opening "For Real," a headphone symphony plunked out on piano and strummed on soft acoustic guitar. At first, it's almost dull, familiar, recalling a leftover from Pre-Millennium Tension; but it insinuates its groove deep, deep, deep beneath the skin, till it flows like your own blood. After a while, it sounds like old Prince, even if Thawes sings in such a way that you can't understand him without a lyric sheet.

From there, the disc veers off toward the inevitable: the ghostly, disembodied female vocals that entwine around off-kilter beats ("Call Me," featuring guest vocalist D'na); the restive, multilayered vocals that sound like the inner ramblings of a madman in a hurry ("Bom Bom Diggy," pairing Tricky with British rapper Mad Dog); the sinuous grooves coupled with breathless vocals and naughty porn-vid fantasies crossed with more violent imagery ("She Said" and "Hot Like a Sauna," the latter of which rhymes sauna with Jeffrey Dahmer). God only knows what Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs and DMX producer Grease actually did -- bring the good weed, maybe? -- and Juxtapose had better be available at the Nice Price, because it clocks in at less than 36 minutes. But say this much for Thawes: He's got a vision, and he'll see it through to the very end. Again and again.


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