Knowle West Boy
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US pressing. 2008 album from the innovative Trip Hop/Electronica pioneer and former member of Massive Attack. Knowle West Boy, his first full-length in over five years, is the album that sums up everything that Tricky has accomplished since his 1995 Maxinquaye debut. Named after his place of birth (Knowle West), the album is a personal rediscovery of sounds and influences. Mixing Hip Hop, Punk, Reggae and Rock with his own inimitable style, results in a broad yet intense record. Includes the single 'Council Estate'. Domino.
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"Knowle West Boy" comes as a surprise - the sound is clean, sparse and almost punk at times.
The album is full of autobiographical references, starting with the title, which namechecks the area he grew up in. This could be an effort to remind himself of his roots when he is far from home. Or maybe he is just at that nostalgic age - 40 - when he feels it is time to reclaim the musical influences which shaped him.
The results are mixed, with some trademark Tricky sounds and some less successful forays into newer territory.
There is considerable diversity on "Knowle West Boy", not just in terms of musical style but also in personnel.
Rather than rely on just one female sidekick as he has done in the past, most effectively with Martina Topley-Bird, he has drafted in a number of vocal foils, all of them virtual unknowns.
Though his croaky whispers still put the listener on edge, there's a sweetness and bounce given by unknown female and dancehall vocalists on tracks such as "Bacative".
The familiar claustrophobic feel of his classic "Maxinquaye" creeps in on tracks such as "Joseph" and "Past Mistake", but this is far more varied.
The sentiments are still indistinct and baleful, but they're being delivered with fresh purpose.
There's even a Kylie electrorock makeovercover, "Slow" - and it works.
It doesn't please consistently but has something for everyone.
He may never top "Maxinquaye", but on this evidence at least Tricky is back in the game.
"An album that dazzles and never disappoints. Despite the Tricky Kid's hatred of the limelight, "Knowle West Boy" deserves to be huge." - BBC
"Gone are the dark, monochordal dirges, to be replace by proper, well-structured songs - and a much needed splash on sunlight." - Uncut
The star now lives across the pond, but is still keen to reference the experiences that shaped his upbringing - and ultimately - his music.
Tricky is arguably the founding father of all things trip-hop; a pioneer of that wonderful genre known as British Urban music, he grew out of Bristol alongside fellow pioneers Massive Attack in the early 1990s. Tricky Kid - born Adrian Thaws - appeared on Massive Attack's debut album "Blue Lines" and the follow up "Protection" before branching out on his own and releasing the seminal "Maxinquaye" in 1995.
Tricky's debut, Maxinquaye, was a brooding masterpiece of the new Bristol blues that propelled him out of the shadows of his former band Massive Attack and into the uneasy role as the crown prince of trip-hop.
After the disappointment of "Vulnerable", this is an amazingly fine return to form. Granted Tricky keeps it safe with a veritable harem of female vocalists - let's not forget he's the man who brought "Martina Topley-Bird" into the limelight - but this is an area he's always excelled in.
After a five-year hiatus in New York and LA, Tricky has been mellowed by nostalgia for the sounds of his youth, and Knowle West Boy almost sounds as if he's having fun. The formula is much the same - angelic female vocalists spar with his rasping stream of consciousness over foreboding beats and strings - but there is more pace and even humour, particularly on his deliciously rough-and-ready, guitar-heavy cover of Kylie's "Slow".
Stand out tracks include the current single "Council Estate", the opener "Puppy Boy" - with its sardonic female vocals, jazz lounge piano and guitar riffs - and the ethereal "Cross to Bear".
Music snobs may baulk at Tricky and his "urban" tag, but the man himself transcends genres and refuses to be pinned down, as evident on "Cross to Bear". That infamous half-whisper Tricky rap floats over violin strings and melodic Asian instruments as a very Alison Goldfrapp-esque lady leads the way.
The haunting "Joseph", the decidedly electro "Veronika" and the reggae "Baligaga" show just how diverse Tricky is - and the brilliance he is capable.
The album recaptures the raw energy of Tricky's early work and takes on board everything he's picked up over the past decade. No musical stone is left unturned and this is probably the man's best work.
How Knowle West Boy really wins my favor is that it combines both new (rock and dance) and old (trip hop, hip hop, and ambient) elements of Tricky's repertoire into something greater, making the album very much an opus. While it is not so hazy as Maxinquaye or Nearly God, it exudes the same offbeat catchiness of those early works. Many hooks and ideas that might have belonged to Blowback or Vulnerable also appear here, but in the context of the vastly improved songwriting they sound completely different. In the song "Joseph" I especially grow nostalgic, hearing so much of a resemblance to the sorrowfully introspective stuff of Tricky's early years--and yet this new track does not lose any credibility for being so much better produced than in the past, a problem that plagued Tricky just a two albums ago.
To his credit, Knowle West Boy draws on many elements that Tricky has not had success with before and expands on those he has. Most prominent here is the more electrified rock-driven sound he tried to pick up at the beginning of the New Millennium. Amazingly, that electro-rock sound works here--songs like "Slow" and "Far Away" breathe and invite the listener, instead of making them feeling trapped in a static field. Ideas reminding of Goldfrapp and Gorillaz have crept in and reveal a renewed sense of Tricky's intimacy with modern music as a writer and a producer. In place of the repetitive and over-produced sounds of Blowback and Vulnerable, these pieces feel as fresh and thoughtful as Tricky's older, more mellow material, in spite of being divergent in style and sound. This is the album's greatest accomplishment and something that Tricky should be very proud of--that he has evolved as an artist and succeeded in that evolution (after several years of trying).
I can't say enough how well Tricky's combination of music and lyrics can capture what superficially might be a ghetto memoir or a drug-induced phantasm and make it feel like an existential treatise that applies to everyone. I am reminded in places of songs like "Peyote Sings" and "Lyrics of Fury" and yet the overall album never lulls into the dreamy sleep that made his early recordings work. Aforementioned songs like "Baligaga" (with its thwacking bass, in-and-out drum layering, and sweltering saxophone) and "Joseph" (subtley percussive beneath a layer of amniotic dreaming) have just enough wailing, anguished siren song in the back of their off-kilter grooves to invite a lot of comparison to Tricky's early 90's ability to put one into a different state of mind.
I feel like we finally have our prophet of Bristol sound back after years in the wilderness. Clearly, however, he has moved on to a new sound altogether--he brings to us new commandments, but they bear the same strange and wonderful news as before. Knowle West Boy is arguably Tricky's most successful forward leap in his entire career, moving beyond Bristol sound and yet maintaining his message and his credibility. The album brings renewed hope that there is still a lot of promise left in the Tricky Kid.
"Knowle West Boy" is UK Trip Hop act Tricky's eighth album, and once again finds him dipping into a melting pot of styles ranging from Trip Hop to Folk to Dub to Rock with his whispered/spoken/rapped vocal style.
"Bacative" for example is a bouncy acoustic tinged song with Dub vocals from Tricky, while "Baligaga" is Dub meets Drum & Bass meets Bollywood. "C'mon baby" is a chugging rocker, and "Council Estate" features clever drumming and snarling guitars.
Other standouts are the delicate folk-ish "Cross to bear", a fuzzy urgent rocky unrecogniable remake of Kylie Minogue's "Slow", the chugging "Far away", and closing cut, the gentle acoustic "School gates" with haunting effects and surreal vocals (a tale from his childhood about his girlfriend getting pregnant at 15).
This album is so interesting and fabulous. It's great to have Tricky back in a year that also sees fellow Trip Hop pioneers Portishead return. A delightful aural experience!!
If you thought his last couple of records were awesome, you'll really dig this. If you thought he's gone downhill since around his fourth or album, you won't like this one either. For me this was really more like 2.5 stars.