When the enigmatic lull of trip-hop became the Muzak of choice for cafés and boutiques, no one appeared more horrified than one of its auteurs. Tricky’s 1995 Maxinquaye defined trip-hop, but the albums he released after it –from collections of rap and drum-and-poems to 1996’s Maxinquaye Xerox, Pre-Millennium Tension–found him dodging or muddying up his own trademarks. As daring as those records were, none were as good as Maxinquaye— a problem Tricky’s finally corrected with Angels With Dirty Faces.
Angels retains the same woozy, hypnotic trance of his earlier work, with Tricky and longtime collaborator Martina Topley-Bird mumbling, muttering, nodding off, and occasionally even singing. (They sound as if it’s the morning after a British awards ceremony.) But the record also feels more adventurous, rhythmically and musically, than its predecessors. Break beats and rubbery jazz rhythms are woven into the tracks. Tricky also pulls off audacious moves like the mutant funk of “Singing the Blues” and “Broken Homes,” a gothic art-gospel set piece featuring an unusually fluid Polly Jean Harvey.
Verbally, Tricky mostly indulges in fidgety rants about deadly rap feuds, the media, and the corrupting ways of success. But lyrics have never been Tricky’s pull, as he himself advises in “Analyze Me” (“For all those who want to analyze me/Start it off in the hips”). It’s his mix of the quiet and the disquieting, a balance he’s again preserved on this alluring sonic blur.