PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am


Knowle West Boy


He's not called Tricky for nothing. At the age of 40 and with his landmark trip hop debut more than a decade behind him, the Los Angeles-based singer has gone back to his roots and produced his best album in years.

His eighth release Knowle West Boy is an ode to the rough Bristol, England, council estate where he grew up. Throughout the 13 tracks the singer, who never possessed powerful vocals, is more of a ringleader, slinking in and out with a rough voice that has the texture of a man gargling with sandpaper. To his credit, he does more than enough with what he has, hiring outside talents to complement, blend in and make memorable songs.

The overall impression is a release that resembles a genre-spanning record collection. That, or Tricky's got an encyclopaedia of music in his haunted brain. There are numerous nods to Specials-era ska and even a surprise, engaging take on Kylie Minogue's recent single Slow. He'll even pull the folk card out on concluding song School Gates, as if to show that the 'trip hop' tag he's been saddled with all these years was an ill-advised one.

Overall, the songs resemble the sounds, attitude and memories of his time at the estate as opposed to any deep wisdom he's imparting to listeners. 'Girls, friends, they come and go, but trends remain in constant flow' is as deep as it gets on the jazz-inflected opener Puppy Toy, which resembles Tom Waits on steroids flirting with a drunken female British socialite.

Elsewhere, Tricky pokes fun at swaggering teens and money-obsessed nobodies, but the true standouts are when he duets with ex-girlfriend Lubna and creates emotional magic over sparse, doom-laden songs like Past Mistake.

Why he had to revisit his past to create such an engaging present is known only to him, but listeners should cut him some well deserved slack. After all, he's Tricky.