If the icily sexy, sleek grooves of Massive Attack make them the rulers of trip-hop heaven, then ex-member Tricky, with his dark, roiling stew of angular beats and anguished blues, must be the overlord of trip-hop hell. Since the success of 1995’s Maxinquaye all those years ago, Tricky has moved further and further away from the sound of his old mates toward the far-out rhythmic zones inhabited by predecessors like Miles Davis circa On The Corner and Tom Waits circa Swordfishtrombones.
Immediately, as the menacing first track, “Mellow,” kicks in, you start to feel as if you’ve been puffing a giant phatty yourself, and you know you’re back in Tricky-land. “She make me feel high, she makes me feel low” Tricky mumbles, deep in gangja-ville, as the rumbling staccato funk sputters all around him, a soundtrack for an evening of stoned, dirty sex.?
Angels With Dirty Faces as a whole can be described as a place where jazz, blues, funk and rock can meet and meld. One highlight is the breezy calypso (an influence also popping up on “Demise”) of “Analyze Me” ignites some fire, as Topley-Bird coos “Will it be on sand or on hot land … Red zones in my head phones.” Perhaps the two of the album’s last three songs best sum up the state of Tricky’s tortured psyche. The smothering, self-immolating blues of “Tear Out My Eyes” finds him summoning up the ghost of Kurt Cobain: “I wanna blow my head off in Seattle” he moans, “I can see a change in me / I deserve to die because of lies.”
The singer turns his anger outward, however, on “Record Companies,” is near-Black Sabbathian in its evocation of darkness, as Tricky indicts corporations who use the proceeds from dead rap singers to manufacture guns: “Record companies love when they kill themselves / it boosts up the record sales” he croaks. “Now which one of you’s gonna be the next niggy / 2Pac holding hands with Biggy.” Tricky restores the meaning to the term alternative, and Angels With Dirty Faces is as challenging as anything that will be released this year.