Out There

Groaning the blues

Angels with Dirty Faces
Island Records

Tricky provides his own static, every other word a distorted rumble from the bottom of his throat; his voice defines him as much as the languid groove or the knotted coil of rhythms that snake beneath the melodies. And yet the former Adrian Thawes is not the lone star of his show: Tricky's the name of the band, such as it is, encompassing not only Thawes' own guttural roar but also Martina Topley Bird's waifish soul-sister whisper. She's the angelic heartbeat to his demonic growl, and when they tangle, it's a rumble on the dance floor jungle--theirs is music made by former lovers for former lovers, the sound of relationships in mid-ruin.

Angels is the inevitable follow-up to Pre-Millennium Tension, its vibe restive where Maxinquaye's was festive; it's a record for the cultists who prefer moan-and-drone eccentricity over groove-thang accessibility. It takes its cue from the opening cut, a tune so "Mellow" it all but crawls, and never lets up from letting up. "Singing the Blues" is Tricky's most deceptively warm outing to date--Lonnie Johnson recast as a down-in-the-mouth single girl with a shit job and an empty wallet. The song builds from a lone moaning riff into a sculpted shuffle; there are myriad rhythms moving in and out of the track till "Singing the Blues" sounds like six songs crammed into the framework of one--it's dope-smoke hypnotic, getting so far under your skin it flows like blood.

PJ Harvey shows up to engage Tricky in a deadpan duel on "Broken Homes," one of those price-of-fame songs written by musicians who became too famous too fast: "Success is killing," Harvey sings in a voice so flat and somnolent it's all but unrecognizable. "Murder is media/Forced laugh, forced autograph/First my body, now my corpse." When "Broken Homes" fades out, "6 Minutes" bursts in, and suddenly the melancholy release turns jittery as Tricky croaks weary superstar catchphrases ("industry full of vomit," "the champagne's at the bar") over sneaky beats and snatches of guitar riffs, piano chords, and Martina's behind-the-curtain phantom vocals--even after a dozen listens, it becomes impossible to separate the organs from the body.

"The Moment I Feared" offers proof Tricky can rap faster than a speeding bullet; but for all its swings, it barely lands a punch--Tricky's far better at the long-distance pace than at sprinting speed. And too bad he spends the final 10 minutes of Angels bemoaning the "Money Greedy" "Record Companies" (the two final tracks); suddenly, a record full of postmodern soul drowns in its own self-righteous bile, and the music turns so far in on itself it might as well not exist at all.

--Robert Wilonsky


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