Tricky’s preceding ‘Skilled Mechanics’ album saw him collaborating with former Wild Bunch associate DJ Milo to craft a collection that placed an emphasis on stripped back electronics and drum machines, in many senses showing Tricky returning to his more hiphop-centred early influences. Scarcely a year on though this latest 13th album ‘Ununiform’ sees Tricky returning to the more pop-centred narrative that’s coursed through previous albums such as ‘Mixed Race’ and ‘Adrian Thaws’, with the foreground often being given over to a brace of vocal collaborators, both new and established names.
Indeed, on many of his more recent albums Tricky’s felt more like a curator than the star, assembling each collection like a mini-nightclub with its own selection of guests. If ‘Adrian Thaws’ seethed with an underlying anger and restless though, ‘Ununiform’ could almost pass as its good twin – indeed, there’s a newfound sense of serenity and contentedness to many of the 13 tracks collected here. Despite this shift in mood however, there’s still the same focus on synths and more glossy programmed rhythms that’s characterised Tricky’s post-2000s work.
There are certainly tracks here that easily rank amongst the strongest material that Tricky’s released in recent years, but it’s often his insistence on covering so many different musical bases that proves to be this album’s Achilles heel. When it works though, it really works. ‘New Stole’ sees Tricky collaborating with longtime musical foil Francesca Belmonte to craft a smoky crawl through stripped down rhythmic guitar strokes that features scarcely anything in way of beats at all as distant background samples trail beneath Belmonte’s brooding bluesy vocals – when Tricky’s backing vocals momentarily surface, answering her, they’re just a brief flash before disappearing back into the shadows.
‘It’s Your Day’ meanwhile sees Tricky collaborating with Russian rapper Scriptonite, his eerie, almost sing-song whispered vocals building a palpable sense of menace on what’s easily one of the darkest offerings here, as ominous bass drops murmur against jittery trap beats, while his long overdue reunion with former collaborator Martina Topley-Bird on ‘When We Die’ closes this album with one of its biggest highlights, triggering flashbacks as their contrasting vocal interplay effortlessly slots back into place against swelling ambient synths and stripped back blunted beats. Elsewhere though, it’s the slightly more awkward digressions that let this collection down.
At this point, it’s pretty much expected that Tricky will include at least one cover version in there, but in the past his most successful ones have seen him take the original track to a completely different place, whether it be Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel’ or Britney Spears’ ‘Piece Of Me’ (let’s not mention that cover of the ‘Wonder Woman’ theme that graced ‘Blowback’). By contrast, ‘Doll’, a cover of Hole’s ‘Doll Parts’ sees Los Angeles singer Avalon Lurks contributing a straightfoward coffee-house style acoustic performance that doesn’t really add anything to the original, while elsewhere Tricky’s EDM-centred excursion alongside Scriptonite on ‘Same As It Ever Was’ sticks out like a sore thumb, its distorted sub-bass drops sitting awkwardly against the more considered atmospheres being explored elsewhere. Despite these weaker moments though, if you’re a longtime fan who’s stuck by Tricky for this long, you’re likely to find plenty of other things to like here.