Ever since he made his name as a spectral carnival barker in the trip-hop troupe Massive Attack, Tricky has been a master of creeping, crawling mood music that exudes quiet defiance and makes followers consult their dictionaries every so often to reconvene with the precise definition of "crepuscular." For his 11th album, Tricky stays more or less in line — though with a bit of a new persona in tow.
Adrian Thaws takes its title from Tricky's given name, marking a rare occasion for him to shed even the slightest bit of the mystery he's been nurturing since the early 1990s. The songs, though, are still evasive in intriguing ways. "Sun Down" slinks over a slick, gritty mid-tempo beat with a mix of foreboding bass tones, dirty angelic coos and slashes of electric guitar. Tricky himself sounds pleasingly cadaverous, while soulful singing by Tirzah establishes a desiccated R&B air. "Lonnie Listen" features the beguiling art-rapper Mykki Blanco and regular Tricky companion Francesca Belmonte as they give voice to down-and-out despair ("Exercise every day and I'm still not fit / My kids are hungry and I ain't got s--- / What I'm gonna do, what I'm gonna do, what I'm gonna do?").
Adrian Thaws varies greatly in speed and tone. "Keep Me in Your Shake" skulks, with a slur of acoustic guitar that gives the song an appealingly strange country-blues twang. "Nicotine Love" accelerates greatly by comparison, with some of the swing of house music and club-ready bass bumps. "Gangster Chronicles" seethes with fiery rapping by London grime MC Bella Gotti, while "My Palestinian Girl" pays eerie tribute to a paramour who caught Tricky's leering eye ("I take a trip to Gaza, it's love I'm really after," he rasps).
Consistent throughout Adrian Thaws is a brooding, searching spirit and a cinematic sense of atmosphere. Tricky's cinema, to be sure, is noir and then some, but he also knows how to pan back every now and then for a widescreen fantasia.