Album review: Tricky – Ununiform

Many of you will know the name from his incredibly well-received work with Massive Attack, or his solo albums. Others may have seen his embarrassing Glastonbury appearance alongside Beyonce in 2012. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tricky, brace yourselves…

Not only has this prolific artist made countless albums since his hip-hop and trip-hop days with The Wild Bunch and Massive Attack, he is also an established producer and has dabbled in the world of acting. The half Jamaican Bristolian, also known as Adrian Thaws, had a troubled childhood due to the loss of his mother at a young age. His father was heavily involved in the local music scene and operated Studio 17 (one of the city’s most popular sound-systems). He was reportedly brought up largely by his grandmother, who often let him watch old horror movies rather than spending the day at school. After being involved with criminal activity with gangs from a young age, he picked up his pen and began rapping at the age of 15.

Tricky has gone on to be one of music’s most unpredictable characters. His quirks have gained him a loyal following, and he has steadily released music since 2014. This year’s album title, Ununiform, sums up his style perfectly, as an artist who refuses to be put in a box. After describing his debut album Maxinquaye as a “F**k you to the world”, it may surprise fans that this release, at times, explores themes of happiness and contentment. Not that it is short of the usual dose of melancholy, with plenty of references to death and mortality to keep things in check. His subject matter, like many rappers of his age, has been tamed dramatically. Along with acts like Jay-Z, he has begun drawing inspiration from the struggles of middle age, instead of youth.

The project’s introduction is a spooky affair, creating an uneasy and tense start. This tension is continued on the unconventional “New Stole”, a duet that blends the weird and wonderful in equal measure as Tricky and Francesca Belmonte slide in and out of the verses. We must not forget that this is Thaws’ 13th studio album, and over the years, like many of his counterparts, he has certainly lost some of his raw naivety. The beats, if anything, have become more primitive at times, as his style grows staler, and the fear of taking risks increases. These uninspiring pieces of production leave a lot to be desired, something that there was all too much of on his last few outings. There are many bland, conventional, electro-pop and EDM influences that are a tad awkward. As he begins to forget how to break the rules, we begin to hear influences from bands like The xx; who were in fact probably inspired by his first albums.

There are of course still a number of thumping beats, that fill the album with excitement. There are the usual overloaded busy arrangements, followed by other minimalist moments, as well as lots of Bristolian influence. “It’s Your Day” is one of the albums more up-to-date productions, with a sinister trap approach replacing the usual musical backdrop. This one may split opinions, but his evil vocals are a brilliant accompaniment to the stark, stern beat.

“Blood Of My Blood” is one of the most radio friendly songs, featuring Russian vocalist Scriptonie and glorious melodic string accompaniment. Not all of the collaborations are quite as successful. Mina Rose turns up on the rocky, sharp edged “Dark Days”, resulting in a rather ugly clash. “Bang Boogie” features another Russian, this time in the form of rapper Smokey Mo. Boasting a credible, and thoroughly energetic hip-hop beat, it leaves you wishing there was more of this on Uniniform. Tricky is reunited with long-term collaborator Martina Topley-Bird, for the first time in 14 years on the albums outro, “When We Die”. Both lyrically and sonically magical, as the instrumentation and the singers simultaneously draw you into the story.

It was always going to be a bumpy ride, but his fans will forgive him as Uniniform is full of treats along the way. Come and give it a try in one of our demo rooms at your local Richer Sounds today.