Tricky's ascension to worldwide critical acclaim and not-unimpressive commercial prosperity was one of the more unlikely success stories of the 1990s, since for all it shared with the down-tempo chill-out fluff it's inspired, Tricky's music was the singularly difficult and complex product of a singularly difficult and complex mind. Maxinquaye (1995) and Pre-Millennium Tension (1996), the two albums the Bristol, England, native is best known for, contained loads of the slow-mo beats, smeared electric guitar, head-cold bass and slurred vocalizing that have come to typify trip-hop for many, yet they were also less rooted in traditional pop and hip-hop forms than the stuff by peers like Portishead and the Sneaker Pimps. Hearing a Tricky record was akin to entering a dimly lighted room and searching for something you can't quite remember you lost.

Unfortunately for Tricky, the days of worldwide critical acclaim and not-unimpressive commercial prosperity are now largely behind him, a circumstance he railed against on 2001's Mission Accomplished EP, an incredibly bitter kiss-off to the evidently evil motherfuckers at his old record label. Fortunately for Tricky's fans, Vulnerable, the first album he's released on his own Brown Punk imprint, demonstrates that this fate hasn't convinced him to dive into overworked nü-metal or gloopy synth-pop. Well, almost: "Where I'm From" sugarcoats serrated guitars with bleeping keyboards and sounds very much like Linkin Park masquerading as Duran Duran (which, come to think of it, might not be such a bad thing). And there are bizarre covers of XTC's "Dear God" and the Cure's "The Love Cats" that similarly vacillate between genius and rubbish.

But most of Vulnerable finds Tricky making the same disorienting noise he's always made, floating new collaborator Costanza Francavilla's wispy singing and his own iron-lung rasp over chugging polyrhythms and sinuous, minor-key melodies, emphasizing mood and texture over any easily grasped sense of structure. Post-millennium tension is no vacation.


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