Can do no wrong on yarn-spinning, genre-bending masterpiece
International fame and critical acclaim hit Adrian Thaws, better known by his stage name Tricky, like a rock. During the 1990’s, Tricky became a trip hop pioneer after parting ways with the eclectic Massive Attack (of which he was a founding member) and releasing his debut album Maxinquaye to widespread lauding. Since then, he’s evolved even further. Forays into punk, rock and soul helped Tricky to create a sound that’s distinctly his own, and on 2020’s Fall to Pieces, he puts on a masterclass of genre fusion, lyrical poignance and remarkably cohesive production that’s quite simply unrivaled.
Elements of hip-hop, soul, punk and electronica rear their heads throughout Fall to Pieces’ tracklist and they’re fused together seamlessly. From start to finish, the album is thematically and sonically cohesive, combining dominant moods of darkness, sultriness and brooding with cryptic and poetic lyrics about the throngs of relationships.
Things kick off with the sophisticated, slow burning “Thinking Of.” Deep kick drums and a heavy synth riff form a simple but elegant beat, while featured vocalist Marta Złakowska gently croons about self doubt and the uncertainties underlying a relationship. The bareness of the instrumental allows Złakowska’s sultry vocals to shine, as Tricky creatively utilizes the voice as a key component of the mix.
The tracks “Close Now” and “Running Off” serve as short, transitional moments. Distorted synths play a delightfully dark and tense riff on the former, while the latter embraces a folktronica sound, with its plucked strings and deep wobble bass. Lyrically, these tracks elaborate on the opener, exploring the dissociation and lack of communication in the aforementioned relationship.
“I’m in the Doorway” is a more cheery offering. A catchy synth riff carries the verse, while a deep sub bass and simple piano accompaniments feature on the hook. The percussion on the track feels organic, with lots of scratches, scrapes, shakes and claps, and Tricky seems to be drawing a bit from the sound of his previous outfit Massive Attack.
Massive Attack’s influence can also be felt on “Hate this Pain,” with its simplistic, bluesy piano and gritty vocal performance reminiscent of some of the songs off of Mezzanine. The angst on this track is palpable, as Tricky’s raspy whisper vocals and the undeniable anger of his lyrics mirror the moody production that his former group perfected so well.
“Chills Me to the Bone” feels like an extension of the previous track, maintaining a dark and brooding mood with minimalist production buoyed by a deep bass and some creeping strings. Złakowska’s vocals are wispy as she sings about the feelings of loneliness and regret that so often follow the dissolution of a partnership.
Tricky certainly isn’t a one trick pony, though, as he switches up the project’s vibe entirely on “Fall Please,” a funk-influenced toe-tapper with driving percussion and a groovy bass line. He switches gears again with “Take Me Shopping,” a smorgasbord of sultry vocals by Złakowska, glitchy and metallic percussion, a folksy guitar riff and an overwhelming sense of brooding.
Airy stringlike synthesizers mark the beginning of the album’s most atmospheric track “Like a Stone,” a supremely moody and sultry song filled with loss, despair and lethargy. Deep kicks, a sub bass and a bass guitar round out the instrumental. And to top it off, Tricky’s raspy vocals return, whispering cryptic lyrics and adding a touch of grit to an already wonderfully dark track.
The same can be said for “Throws Me Around” with its moody bass synthesizers and bone rattling kicks. The instrumental is somber and full of subdued anger, creating the feeling of something eating one up from the inside. Złakowska’s delicate vocals shine over the tense mix, with her lyrics emoting the regret that comes with falling for the wrong person.
For the record’s finale “Vietnam,” Tricky strips things back. A wobbly and heavily reverbed guitar is the only instrument that can be heard, and the juxtaposition of Tricky’s gritty vocals and Złakowska’s elegance adds plenty of tension. It’s a bit bare and repetitive, but the track’s cryptic lyrics hint that the album’s central relationship has devolved into nothing but sex, making the lazy, tired guitar riff fit neatly into the project’s mythos.
Across Fall to Pieces, Tricky shines in a multitude of ways; his tidy production, creative instrumental fusions, storytelling panache and emotive vocalizations are all optimized on a truly spectacular record. The UK rapper-producer is a master of immersion, packing an overwhelming amount of moodiness and brooding into just 30 minutes of music. Each song feels at home within the tracklist, expanding upon and playing off of each other. An echelon above the rest, Tricky mixes a variety of genres with poignant songwriting and a cohesive tone, and he does it near-flawlessly.