Is Tricky stuck in a middle of the road malaise?
It’s telling that the best song on Tricky’s 13th album Ununiform is over two years old and already appears on another album.
‘New Stole’ (previously just ‘Stole’) first featured on Francesca Belmonte’s overlooked solo album Anima, which was produced by Tricky, and who has been a frequent vocal collaborator with him over the last decade or so. The current incarnation is mesmerising – essentially a remix which adds a ton of menace, disdain and guts to the original and turns a good song into a fantastic one.
Tricky barely features on the track which is certainly nothing new. No one delights and excels at diverse female leads more than he does, and the fact that Belmonte gives him a thorough, verbal kicking suggests a sado-masochist streak and one that has always played a part in his non-conformist, outsider appeal.
But the rest of album is sadly much safer, and which is probably the most surprising thing about Ununiforn, especially given its title.
The album does not lack for musical variation. ‘Same As It Ever Was’ is a fractured and frantic electro-pop stomp which has three different time signatures but still ends up sounding unexciting and dated.
‘Dark Days’ and ‘Armor’ pound hard and feature yowling guitars, with vocalists Mina Rose and Terra Lopez respectively both certainly giving it all they’ve got.
The end results, though, sound like half-finished demos that are unlikely to find a buyer. ‘Wait for Signal’, which features actress Asia Argento sharing some of the vocals with Tricky, has a lovely, lilting refrain that secures a romantic hook in your head. It’s hard to budge but the cover of Hole’s ‘Doll Parts’ (featuring a dull Avalon Lurks) is anaemic and pointless.
Tricky sounds most possessed, and himself, on the super-club jazz and piano tinkled ‘The Only Way’, and more of this would have been welcome.
The album saves two of its better tracks right until the end. ‘Running Wild’ again features Mina Rose, a London singer who makes a strong impact here, and has the desolate and bruised quality that has run through every one of Tricky’s releases and can still make an impression.
Of course, his artistic soulmate and counterpart Martina Topley-Bird was the voice that he has always seemed to try and replicate since the 1995 debut Maxinquaye, and, for the first time in nearly 15 years, she briefly re-joins him again here. Even more than ‘Running Wild’, ‘When We Die’ is the type of morbid and murky duet that Topley-Bird is known for and master of, and it’s a great to hear these two voices intwined again in that beautiful kind of dysfunction we love them for.
Ununiform, then, may have its highlights but it strangely places Tricky as someone who, for now at least, seems happy to languish in an out of character, middle-of-the road malaise.