Fall To Pieces

On latest album, *Fall to Pieces*, Tricky sounds like a shadow of his former self, finds CJ Thorpe-Tracey

If ever a music review could be a poisoned chalice, it’s this bastard. Tricky’s fourteenth album Fall To Pieces, made in Berlin, released on his own label False Idols, comes on the back of years now of unimportant music, often using the cosplay of waywardness to disguise a lack of substance. To my ears, at least.

At first, I thought this was worse. Underwhelmed to the point of anger, I was a few paragraphs into a full-on tirade; half-heartedly struggling to locate enough of interest to even unpack, in this ramshackle throw-up of boring half-songs. Then I found out separately that Tricky’s daughter passed away while he was working on the project. Making this a fist against the wall. It’s an album completed in searing, frazzled, very real grief. Of course it slaps your face. Jesus Christ, poor Tricky. It slaps fierce, broken authenticity onto these lyrics, which otherwise seemed overly broad. You won’t hear Tricky’s own voice – that wonderful lowdown trademark grind and rasp – until the fifth track on Fall To Pieces, ‘Hate this Pain’. Finally he steps in, bruised as hell, a half-whisper over a basic, roomy piano refrain:

"What a fucking game. I hate this fucking pain. Baby girl, she knew me most. I hate this fucking pain."

I took it as a pose. It’s not.

Up til that point, most of the lead vocals are covered by Marta Złakowska, who is a solid, modestly soulful presence, doing a ton of emotional weightlifting without ever becoming truly diverting or allowing quite enough emotion into the work. It’s not her fault, though, hers isn’t the name on the box. Meanwhile the beats on Fall To Pieces are beyond simple. Pawned machinery, library parts and sparse samples, nothing structured. They sound desperately outdated – and not in a good way. Songs appear and go in less than two minutes, ending in the middle, with unexpected fades. Sections don’t bother repeating. Frail wisps of rather beautiful cello and reverberating electric guitar aren’t nearly enough. Though the odd balalaika-tinged ballad ‘Running Off’, even its torturous switch of style halfway through, is lighter and an early highlight of sorts.

The record misses that Tom Waits-ish mire and swamp that Tricky usually brings to his production, with the sounds here oddly unprocessed. Honestly, this makes it sound like a demo, in its lack of layers and manufactured roughness. At first it just seemed slapdash. Then it made me wonder if Tricky was deliberately using such cleanliness and disinterest in the ‘finish’ to make his hard self-exposure more intimate and powerful.

There are some sublime minimalist palettes out there at the moment, away from hip hop. I think sonically this album is closer to Sleaford Mods (who bestride like a colossus the space where a tinny drumbeat meets a lowslung bass guitar) or the Billy Nomates record, or even folk bands like Stick In The Wheel. When Marta sings low, we even tilt in a Billie Eilish direction, without getting anywhere close to Finneas’ or Billie’s skills. ‘Throws Me Around’ near the end is a good example of that. Team Eilish would’ve put it aside for another time.

Tricky’s long absences begin to feel like he’s playing a joke, or palming off the record to promote Marta. Later, with the piece of sad knowledge that is none of my business, it takes on new meaning. Inevitably, Fall To Pieces is best at its lowest ebb. So ’Fall Please’ manages to get to the end of the song feeling almost whole – and it’s almost very good. But then ‘Take Me Shopping’ is some dunce YouTuber kid covering Radiohead’s ‘Electioneering’, forgetting the chorus and getting bored midway through. Closing track ‘Vietnam’ may be the gem. A tough, slow-motion walking detuned guitar pretends to be a bass, two vocals, nothing else: racism, violence, weaponry, still in the vaguest terms.

I’d started to wonder if Tricky was even in the room when the music was made. But no, that’s not right, of course he’s there, running the show. Actually I’d started to wonder if it mattered if Tricky was even in the room when the music was made. Because what even is it, really? Just, like, all a big clump of heartbroken nothing. There’s minimal and there’s lazy. Fall To Pieces would be the latter but can claim every right to it, in context. In the end, I don’t actually feel as if is a grief record. I feel as if it’s mostly the gathering of pieces for a record that was being constructed prior to a tragedy, with the grief itself manifesting in the abandonment of that work and this half-complete thing we get instead. Tricky is a shadow of his former self, playing the role of a shadow of his former self, which was always a selfhood in shadow.

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