Bristol icon Tricky (Adrian Thaws) has always been shrouded in an air of mystery, but in the three years leading up to his tenth studio album False Idols, you can’t be sure if even the man himself could predict his next move. To say ‘mixed messages’ would be an understatement when comparing Tricky’s recent actions. Whilst making an unexpected (and what would appear unrehearsed) cameo appearance during Beyonce’s headline slot at Glastonbury in 2011, Thaws later shocked trip-hop fans with a surprise reunion between himself and his original collaborators Massive Attack. As well as leaving Domino records and beginning his own label False Idols, Tricky also found time to reunite with the mother of his child and counterpart to his first four albums, Martina Topley-Bird, through a chaotic (to say the least) three date tour in which he resurrected his mammoth début Maxinquaye, an unusual move from a man who has spent the better part of 15 years trying to escape said album.

It is no surprise that anticipation for False Idols is met with a degree of anxiety. With Tricky’s recent history, the possibility of a metal fused folk album composed solely with a didgeridoo with all lyrics sung in Russian is never off the table. So, it is with great relief that False Idols is constructed using Tricky’s signature recipe; beat driven songs, melodies sidetracked in favour of dark atmospherics and soulful female vocals reinforced with Thaws’ subtle mutterings.

The album begins as it means to continue with ‘Somebody’s Sins’, a moody and claustrophobic re-imagination to the opening verses of Patti Smith’s ‘Gloria’ (which itself is a cover of a band called Them). Spine-rumbling bass pulses are met with a minimalist drum beat, as semi spoken vocals express the gloomy themes that one would expect from the murky Bristolian. The fluid rhythm of ‘Valentine’ sounds somewhat reminiscent of Tom Waits’ ‘Clap Hands’, a dingy and squalid climate is met with whispered murmurs and repeated messages. ‘Parenthesis’ is a remix/collaboration, as Tricky marks his own stance upon The Antlers original. Falsetto male vocal lines are torn apart by thundering digital percussion and thrashing guitars, injecting the album with testosterone.

However, amongst all of the lurid sombreness, Thaws has managed to construct songs that could be considered almost radio friendly, a feat that hasn’t been reached since his 2001 track ‘Evolution Revolution Love’. ‘Nothing Matters’ and ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ employ a consistent four on the floor drum beat, and the catchy vocals and emphasised choruses enforce the idea that Tricky may be open to returning to his pedestal in popular culture, leaving his reclusive persona behind along with his brand name record companies. ‘If Only I Knew’ reminds the listener of how downright sexy Tricky’s collaborations can be, with Fifi Rong providing a heartfelt, RnB-esque interval at the mid-point of the album. The despairing vocals are propelled with a well-measured, underlying beat and subtle instrumentation.

The strength of this album is reinforced with the lead single ‘Nothing’s Changed’. A rhythmically charged and spectrally lush fusion, which fortifies Tricky’s ability to mesmerise. The pleading vocal performance of Francesca Belmonte and Tricky open an unusual insight into the unfathomable mind of Thaws himself with the lines “Nothing’s changed / I still feel the same / Feel same pain”.

Prior to False Idols’ release, Tricky declared that his latest instalment is “musically a better album” when compared to his iconic début. You can see how this bold claim doesn’t establish much confidence, as every album since Maxinquaye has been a tool to separate himself from his first release. However, it is relieving to say that you can see his point, or at least partially. False Idols is more consistent, personal and complete than anything he has ever released. In returning to his roots, Tricky has finally managed separate himself from his haunted beginnings. If this is a sign of things to come from Tricky then we can all take a sigh of relief, sit back and wait for more gloomy gold.

[rating:4]