Engulfed in flames is a photograph of the face. The name “Adrian” is on one side, “Thaws” (used here as both verb and noun) is on the other and “TRICKY” is bold and center. This is an album cover of intrigue. Of identity. Not of any fixed nature, but of transformation.
Tricky seems to ask, “Do you know me?” on Adrian Thaws, his tenth album. Described by some as an outsider, Tricky is also an innovative master of poetic architecture. On this new album emblazoned with his birth name, Tricky blends styles — from house to hip-hop to pop to rock to reggae to jazz — in an eclectic but precise mix of multiple beats, voices and sound samples. It never follows a predictable trajectory, but is rather a kind of sonic foreplay without prediction.
Sometimes his songs depict him as a woman (“Every time I hear your name/Oh, the pain/Boy, how it hurts me inside”). Sometimes his songs depict him as a man (“Elvis was good/but I the king”). I’m drawn to his ever-changing personae and the album guests who manifest them while merging with his shapeshifting dreams. I connect with this question of identity as I listen to Adrian Thaws. Identity is also the rationale for an album of my own called Thirteen Masks (which is actually 14 songs — is one of them not a mask?)
Tricky’s sprechgesang vocals are prominent on Adrian Thaws, yet the sound of alarms also appears as an element in three songs. (Is it a police-car siren or an air raid warning or an ambulance?) Guests — including Francesca Belmonte, Nneka, Mykki Blanco, Bella Gotti, Tirzah, Blue Daisy, Oh Land and Tricky’s daughter Mazy, credited as Silver Tongue— deliver performances that to my ear are emotionally pure, subtle and nuanced.
The club chill-room of “Something in the Way,” with its refrain “your role is over now,” evokes the sensual electronic sound that Tricky helped to father in the early 1990s in his work with Massive Attack. “Keep Me in Your Shake” is a ride of sexual blues vocals from Nneka over an acoustic guitar riff and an industrial synth collision. “Nicotine Love,” with Francesca Belmonte, has a disco vibe that feels both retro and rebellious, while “I Had a Dream” balances a jazz piano riff, double bass, brushed cymbals and a tapped high-hat.
“My Palestine Girl,” inspired by Tricky’s relationship with a Palestinian woman while living in Paris, is dark and evocative. Here, Tricky writes about the idea of falling in love with someone living in a place full of obstacles and walls erected by politics (“I take a trip to Gaza/it’s really love I’m after/She’s trapped in Babylon”). As he says on his website: “Imagine if the love of your life was there. It’s a political thing to divide and rule. I’ve been to Israel. The kids I met don’t hate Palestinians. It’s a political thing.”
Reading his words about the basis of this song reminded me of six weeks I spent living in Israel, where I saw the word “peace” carved into a teenage Israeli soldier’s rifle and observed a group of Palestinian youths and young Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem talking and laughing together.
In “Why Don’t You,” I hear an homage to the fury of both hardcore and hip-hop. Electric guitar and synth meet sirens meet Bella Gotti’s rap and a hardcore-like anthem shout: “Why don’t you!…Why don’t you!… Why don’t you!… come!… get!… fucked?”
Adrian Thaws feels playfully alive with energy, charged perhaps by Tricky’s return to England and his home studio, and also by the freedom of having his own label. He had said it’s his least introspective album, but by giving it his birth name, he explores notions about identity. The album is filled with thoughtful, poetry-infused sound architecture, creating new forms in unexpected ways, and always avoiding the safe, predictable route. “Do you know me?” Tricky seems to ask on Adrian Thaws. Who do I see? The Anarchist!