Given the way some critics bent over backwards to continue lavishing praise on his increasingly dismal albums, it's hardly surprising that Tricky grew to regard the music industry with such contempt. No matter how rubbish he was, he still got the chance to make another record – and no matter how rubbish that was, he still got praised for his "dark vision", or some such. By 1999's dreary Juxtapose , Tricky seemed a spent force, so reliant on the contributions of collaborators DJ Muggs and Grease that they received full artist credit alongside himself.
It was, he now acknowledges, a psychological problem. "I was making records deliberately so they wouldn't get on the radio," he reveals in the press release for his latest album. To what, then, can we ascribe his return to form on Blowback , which Tricky himself admits is the record he should have made to follow-up Maxinquaye ? To his diet, apparently: after years of paranoia and Prozac, a doctor diagnosed a rare food-related psychological condition and prescribed certain dietary prohibitions that ultimately eliminated his paranoia and depression.
The results speak for themselves: Blowback is so much more open and involving than any of the albums following his pioneering début that it's as if he's had an operation (an antipathectomy, perhaps?) to let his hitherto repressed better side flow freely for the first time. It's still a dark, sticky kind of sound, but sweeter: treacle-dark, rather than bitumen-black. He's still fond of collaborations, but the weight no longer rests mostly on his guests' shoulders. He even manages to make Alanis Morissette palatable on the opening track "Excess", whose cool, cantering rhythm owes little to any contemporary dancefloor beat. Various Red Hot Chili Peppers sit in on "#1 Da Woman" (Eighties US rawk meets Nineties Tricky whisper) and "Girls" (rap-metal that's old enough to shave), while the most striking piece on the album, "Five Days", features Cyndi Lauper singing like Kate Bush over Tricky's cello and electric-piano pow-wow shuffle. Here, for the first time in ages, Tricky rediscovers how to be menacing without actively repelling.
Likewise on "Song for Yukiko", he manages to evoke that whole Mishima/ Oshima erotic pain thing through just a few revealing lines and an elegant, minimal backing track – not so much an Empire of the Senses as a small protectorate, perhaps. Tricky's main vocal cohorts throughout the album are his Bronx ragga chatting chum Hawkman and chanteuse Ambersunshower, whose high-register sweetness applies balm to Tricky's gruff mutterings.
Just as important in the overall scheme of things, though, are American mix specialists Tom Lord-Alge and Jack Joseph Puig, whose skills at maximising the appeal of Tricky's sound montages give Blowback an attractive transatlantic punch.