The bleak trip hop of Tricky can be a polarizing affair at the best of times, which pretty much makes Mixed Race a record that’s either going to be adored or reviled. Maybe that’s a given, maybe not.
The ninth record for the Knowle West Boy is one miserable, forsaken soundscape after another. It has a sort of numbing effect after a while, like being prepared for a particularly fiddly piece of dentistry, and it’s sometimes hard to find the payoff in the fog.
But hey, this is what Tricky does best after all and Mixed Race finds him folding through his arsenal with glassy confidence. His whispered tones offer solid foundation to some of his weirder moments and it gives the record the grounding it needs, even as he seems intent on habitually abandoning the living shit out of his listener.
None of this adds up to a bad record, mind you, but Mixed Race is a…difficult one?
Critics have been begrudging Tricky his growth ever since he floated out of the ’90s. The battle rages on as to whether or not he should have abandoned those street-infused days for a more experimental approach on records like Blowback. When would he “return to form?”
It appears to me that “form” is something abstract, something complicated for Tricky. Mixed Race proves this, expressing that the only constant within the context of this artist is that he is one mucky dude.
Tricky doesn’t just work through his music; he slithers through it, infesting every beat and every atmospheric cloud contraption with a sense of hissing determination. This is evident from the opening cut’s lethargic country/blues vibe, luckily gifted with the presence of the fantastic Frankey Riley. Riley also shows up on “Come to Me.”
“Murder Weapon” is the record’s lead single. It gulps around, working through its dancehall paces with slight reggae cruising over the sped-up “Peter Gunn Theme” sample. It nearly works as a decidedly uncooperative spree, but its gawkiness is devastating.
Tricky’s most interesting cut here is “Hakim,” a Middle Eastern voyage that makes the most out of the artist’s dark backdrops. The vocals are stunning.
Tricky claims that Mixed Race was “the easiest album to make” that he’s ever done, but it’s not the easiest album to listen to. Some cuts, like the boisterous and teeming “Bristol to London,” seem jumpy and ham-fisted. Others are barely there (“Time to Dance”) and don’t even begin to kiss the splendid darkness.
Even so, I’m recommending Mixed Race. It is a Tricky record, make no mistake about it, and nothing resembles the easy passage. It is as confused as it is fashionable, incredibly enough, and the lack of pure “form” is just par for the course.
Check out the vid for “Murder Weapon:”