Despite the Tricky Kid's hatred of the limelight, Knowle West Boy deserves to be huge.
Chris Jones 2008
There's a whole generation who, maybe, got as far as Tricky's third album, Pre-Millenium Tension, and lost the faith. For them Knowle West Boy will actually work as a useful summary of all the places Tricky's been over the last decade. Its diversity defies any useless 'trip hop' tag.
It may be initially disconcerting, but then, that's what Tricky's about. And this album is both a tribute to the district that gave birth to the former Adrian Thaws and also the vast range of music that was his childhood's soundtrack. Knowle West Boy is a beautifully produced glide from sinuous steppers like Cross To Bear (featuring Icelandic singer Hafdis) to the Jamaican dancehall roughness of Bacative or Baligaga. One minute you're chugging along to C'Mon (for once, a rock song that works), the next you're flung into the twilight smokiness of Past Mistake, the post-punkish Far Away or the stop-start electronic stomp filled with retribution, Veronica. It's all handled with aplomb: even his version of Kylie's Slow works, though it doesn't add much to the original.
He'd be the first to admit that he's not a singer - hence the employment of so many (mainly female) cohorts. And ever since debut, Maxinquaye, he's known how to use this to reflect both sides of his persona; mixing his patent growl with vulnerability and sweetness. This is probably why the only truly weak moment here is the political invective of Coalition where, for the first time, he takes to the mic alone.
Much of this is autobiographical: School Gates concerns a girl he got pregnant at 16; while Past Mistake is the chronicle of a disintegrating relationship, actually sung with the person with whom he's breaking up: ex-girlfriend, Lubna. Council Estate, by his own admission, takes its cue from childhood heroes, the Specials, though musically it's more plain rude than rude boy. It's in the lyrics that you find the humorous take on his roots. And make no mistake, Knowle West Boy does contain jokes. After years of fighting shy of a media hellbent on portraying him as a dour specialist in subterranean beats and scowling at cameras it seems that he's finally at peace with his own identity.
The result is an album that dazzles and never disappoints. Despite the Tricky Kid's hatred of the limelight, Knowle West Boy deserves to be huge.