I knew Tricky had signed to Hollywood Records for his sixth full-length, Blowback, but I didn't realize he was actually going Hollywood until I looked over the album's list of guest stars. Sure, he's always enlisted big names, from PJ Harvey to Bjork, but his collaborators have usually seemed more attuned to his murky, introverted aesthetic than this batch: Three of the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Alanis Morissette? Cyndi Lauper? If this is how Tricky hopes to cross over into the mainstream, he's at least five years late. From a Peppers-powered cover of "Wonder Woman" (yes, the TV theme song) to an angular version of Nirvana's "Something in the Way" (featuring Jamaican toaster Hawkman on vocals), Blowback is full of "modern rock" moves that feel as dated as a back issue of Ben Is Dead. But even though it's disappointing to hear Tricky surrendering his vision to the kind of pop structures he once subverted, Blowback is still a major improvement over his previous attempt, 1999's depressingly flaccid Juxtapose. The ideas here may be old news, but Tricky carries many of them off admirably: the Big Rawk of "Evolution Revolution Love" (with Ed Kowalczyk, that dork from Live) is actually engaging, against all odds; the weird, stumbling rhythms and Japanese vocals of the final track, "A Song for Yukiko," lend the whole album an intriguing sense of irresolution. Blowback also gets points for being Tricky's most personable record in years. After all, assuming he was trying to sell out, he must've known he'd have to focus his songcraft and lighten the fuck up--and here he does both, with lots of help from Hawkman, who sings more than anyone else. His voice is every bit as gravelly as Tricky's, but nowhere near as morose. Wednesday, September 19, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anton Corbijn.