Tricky's 'Fall to Pieces' Lacks the Risk-Taking of his Early Work

Photo: Erik Weiss / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

Tricky's Fall to Pieces gives the impression of an artist struggling to sustain his vision, leaning on his collaborators to make up for the lack of it. Like on the last two albums, Tricky sounds too restrained here.

Fall to Pieces

Liberator Music

4 September 2020

It's been 25 years since Maxinquaye, the trip-hop classic that shook the world. Since then, Tricky—the stage name of Adrian Thaws—has been living in its shadow. It's as though every new Tricky album comes prepackaged with the disclaimer: "Not bad, but it ain't Maxinquaye."

Virtually any artist is bound to come back down to earth after an album like Maxinquaye. You can only reinvent the wheel so many times, or pioneer a genre for so many years. And Tricky spent the entire 2000s coming back down to earth, with overdone, blustering rap-rock experiments like Blowback, Vulnerable, and Knowle West Boy. But the 2010s signaled a new chapter in the veteran's career, a return to the risk-taking of his early work. In 2013, Thaws roared back with the gun-slinging, industrial-tinged False Idols, one of the finest trip-hop LPs of the past ten years. He followed it up with the equally marvelous Adrian Thaws, probably his most club-ready album to date.

Since then, Tricky's been in a bit of a funk again. Lo-fi R&B projects like Skilled Mechanics and ununiform felt murky, underdeveloped, and decidedly unambitious. Which is no surprise, of course—the only real narrative to Tricky's career is that you never know which Tricky you'll get next. His music is by equal turns surprising and frustrating, full of twists and turns, peaks and valleys.

However, if there's anything Tricky does exceptionally well, it communicates pain, tragedy, and suffering through his music. Tricky is no stranger to such things. His father left before he was even born; his mother committed suicide when he was four. He grew up in a violence-ridden neighborhood of Bristol, and most recently, in 2019, his daughter took her own life. Yet Tricky's ability to keep churning out music despite all he's been through is nothing shy of incredible. Tragedy has always played a huge part in his music, but on his latest LP, Fall to Pieces, it plays a bigger role than ever before.

There's barrenness to the music here that oozes grief and loss. It's an album of skeletal drums, eerie slide guitar, and the usual raspy, half-whispered vocals we've come to expect from Tricky. The lyrics are so blunt, so bare-bones, they feel cooked up on the spot—half-formed, stream-of-conscious mutterings like "Hardly sleep now / Hardly here now / Stare into space / Ending this race" and "Is it real / And it hurts to feel / Goodnight, my love." Nowhere is the pain more keenly felt, however, than on "Hate This Pain". In a voice wracked with anguish, Tricky sings: "At ten, I'll take a flight / Try to be there, I guess I might / I miss my baby while I fly / In my head I want to die." The lyrics convey a father numb with grief, indifferent to the mundane demands of work and travel, almost sleepwalking through life. They aren't meant to be poetic—they're meant to convey raw emotional pain in the most naked terms.

Most of the album is not sung by Tricky, however. Thaws has always had a reputation for collaborating with female vocalists—most famously Martina-Topley Bird, who sung most of Maxinquaye. Here, the trip-hop veteran enlists Marta Zlakowska, who sings on nine of the 11 tracks. On the other two, he features Oh Land, the project of Danish-singer Nanna Oland Fabricius. Their presence adds a soothing counterpoint to Tricky's tortured singing.

Unfortunately, Marta—and Oh Land, to a lesser degree—end up carrying too much of the weight here. Fall to Pieces gives the impression of an artist struggling to sustain his vision, leaning on his collaborators to make up for its lack. Like on the last two albums, Tricky sounds too restrained here. His half-whispered, mumble-sung vocals make his presence feel too remote, too detached to convey the lyrics' pain. And the electronics are threadbare and undercooked, giving the music a rushed, half-finished quality. The tracks feel more like sketches or ideas than actual songs—after all, only three of them even crack the three-minute mark.

That's not to say Fall to Pieces is without its highlights, however—just that those highlights are mostly the result of Tricky's collaborators. The two pieces featuring Oh Land may be the strongest here. On "Running Off", Fabricius sings over a beautiful flamenco guitar passage, and on "I'm in the Doorway", she delivers what's easily the strongest vocal melody of the LP. Amidst a backdrop of gentle piano and distant violins, she sings: "I'll bring you greetings / And hidden meanings / Can you hear me breathing?/can you feel me leaving?" The lyrics are cryptic but deeply moving. They bespeak a father-daughter connection that outsiders will never understand, grief most of them will never know.

It's moments like these where Fall to Pieces offers transcendence, where Tricky and his collaborators break through the sultry, lo-fi veneer and just sound free. As with Skilled Mechanics and Uninform, though, Adrian Thaws just seems too subdued most of the time. Moments of catharsis notwithstanding, it's hard not to miss the risk-taking ventures of albums like Maxinquaye and False Idols.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.